Since Big Cypress National Preserve is a seasonally affected wetlands, many of the ponds and small lakes vary in size and depth throughout the year. During the dry season months of February through April, most of the ponds in the interior of the Preserve can dry down completely, leaving muddy puddles for the wildlife to compete for space where there could be four to six feet of water in a half acre of pond during the wet months in the summer. Lakes and ponds form where there is a depression in the topography that fills with water. These can be caused by geology (solution holes or sink holes), seasonal changes in water levels that change the composition of soil or vegetation (small ponds in sloughs and marshes or the center of a cypress dome), and by mechanical clearing by wildlife (gator holes). Sink Holes or Solution Holes are formed when the limestone that underlies an area erodes an collapses. Limestone is water soluble under even slightly acidic conditions, so when rain and standing water seep into the ground it can erode the fissures and cracks that it flows through. Over long periods of time, the fissures and crevices can widen and deepen weakening the limestone. As the limestone erodes, a depression forms, and further subsidence develops into a sink or solution hole. If this is compounded by other forces, such as water being drawn down out of existing crevices, or forces on the surface of the ground (building roads or buildings on top of the ground), a collapse can result forming steep walled, deep depressions, that quickly fill with groundwater. Gator Holes are formed when alligators find suitable habitat, and want to keep it suitable for as long as possible.
An alligator may find a small open marsh, with abundant water and fish, not too much vegetation and may stay close to that spot for much of the wet season. As the gator moves around, he keeps the vegetation cleared simply by being there. As the water dries down at the end of the wet season, the gator will clear more vegetation and deepen the area using his tail and feet. This deeper hole keeps more water for the alligator and its food for as long as possible. Over several seasons, a gator or group of gators can create a large pond for its refuge. These gator holes than become a permanent part of the wetland ecosystem, changing vegetation, keeping larger fish alive in more remote locations, and lengthening the localized hydroperiod.
Deep Lake is of particular hydrologic interest because it is one of the few major sinkholes located in south Florida. It is a classical sinkhole lake, with steep sides tapering off to a rounded bottom, at approximately 100 feet deep. Natural bodies of water of this depth are very rare in south Florida. The lake is approximately 325 feet across. The lake is located in the Deep Lake Strand, a dense and wet cypress drainage the connects Okaloacoochee Slough to the northeast with Fakahatchee Strand (State Preserve) to the southwest. The strand is a mature forest of cypress, oak and palm overstory that escaped early logging activities. The entire forest is lush with air plants and rare orchids. Historically, the Collier family used the area for a private hunting and recreation area back in the 1920s. Several hundred acres of grapefruit trees were maintained in the open prairies off to the west until the late 1930s. Warehouses and other improvements associated with the grove operation were located on a large, nearby filled area which is now a state road prison. Other "lakes" found in the Preserve are borrow pits for fill material for roads and buildings. ParkNet U.S. Department of the Interior FOIA Privacy Disclaimer FirstGov