by Carlton Ward Jr. | June 12, 2019
Florida Wild: Ten Thousand Islands
The first time I went camping in Florida’s Ten Thousand Islands in 2001, I felt a sense of wildness and solitude I had only known from the Serengeti of Tanzania, the Amazon of Peru and the outback of Australia. The landscape was familiar—mangrove islands that I’d experienced in remnant patches as a kid growing up in Clearwater, or as a teenager fishing in Charlotte Harbor. But the scale of the undeveloped nature in the Ten Thousand Islands was like nothing I’d experienced in my home state. Florida’s southern fringe, from Everglades National Park through Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge, makes up the largest protected mangrove coastline in the Western Hemisphere. The context makes the mangroves even more impressive. If you are camped on an island like Panther Key and watching the sun set over the Gulf of Mexico, you are surrounded by nature in all directions. In front of you and to your left, mangrove islands and wide-open water reach all the way to Mexico and Cuba. Behind you, Everglades National Park and the largest sub-tropical wilderness reserve in North America stretches dozens of miles east toward Miami. To your right, the Fakahatchee Strand and Big Cypress National Preserve anchor a wildlife corridor that reaches all the way north to the Everglades headwaters and beyond. A few years ago, I had a chance to return to the Ten Thousand Islands for a photo shoot from a small airplane. My goal was to capture the seemingly infinite labyrinth of the watery landscape and tap into that feeling of awe that had changed my perception of Florida on that first Everglades camping trip 15 years before.