Once the story line for Everglades"popped" into my head and my scene bullets were lined up, I knew I needed to do a ton of research to avoid offending anyone in the decades-long and ongoing controversy between agriculture and environmentalists over the maintenance and fate of our beautiful Everglades.
I "created" the Everglades Water District for monitoring and restoring the Everglades, though in real life that task falls to the Army Corps of Engineers and the South FloridaWater Management District who cooperate over the CERP, or Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan. If you'd like to learn more, visit http://www.evergladesplan.org.
Rather than point fingers over pollution, I created the "perfect" sugar plantation owner with a zero discharge of nutrients to the River of Grass and even a co-generation plant that burned bagasse (the fibrous material left after sugar cane is crushed for the juice) as a biofuel to provide power for his plantation workers. There is an existing sugar plantation in south Florida that actually operates a co-gen.
All the invasive species mentioned -- both plant and animal -- are dead-on fact. The Everglades is one of the chief thoroughfares for invasive exotic species to enter this country from the Caribbean or South America. The government really does have a python removal program in operation and has removed over 1600 individuals.
I didn't put one in the book, but did you know an exotic toad species has invaded south Florida -- Bufo marinus -- and reaches a body weight of 5 to 6 pounds??
The research on the Seminole Tribe of Florida was the fun part. The Tribe is really made up of clans, just as SkyeLanders explained to Kayli, and his "panther" clan really exists. I researched the chickees at length to keep them authentic for Wren's camp in the story.
I went to high school with two full-blooded Seminoles, brothers and twins. The brothers were two of the toughest guys in school, yet the most kind-hearted and always operated with their personal code of honor. So when you meet the Robles twins about halfway through the story you'll see how my high school classmates turned out -- all grown up.
The operation of the airboat and the science part of the research was the easiest for me. A co-worker of mine,who owns his own airboat, helped me with engine specs, damage to be expected when sinking an airboat, and procedures for raising a sunken airboat. The aquatic plants and "bugs" I knew from my too-long career in aquatic biology. I spent two years of my career surveying Florida waterways by airboat and most of my career in some form of aquatic plant management. I can tell you that all of Kayli's interactions with the environment on her airboat safari (with the exception of the hunky airboat guide and the drug dealers) happened to me at some time in my career, so the narrative comes from first-hand experience.
If you decide to try the story, feel free to email me with questions about my research or experiences in the field. [firstname.lastname@example.org] I love to talk "bugs."