Trekking more than 1,000 miles through dense Florida jungles, coastal waterways, and tropical swamplands, the Florida Wildlife Corridor expedition team is charting a geographic path for wildlife migration and environmental preservation.
While Florida isn't exactly the first place that comes to mind when exploring America's untamed wilderness, you might be surprised to learn that Florida has not only one, but three national parks, as well as many other federally protected and incredibly bio-diverse areas. These include Everglades, Biscayne and Dry Tortugas national parks, each located in the southern-most region of the state, as well as Big Cypress National Preserve and the Gulf Islands and Canaveral national seashores.
The FWC is a conservation organization striving to restore a natural connectivity between these lands by advocating the implementation of a protected, interconnected passageway. Specifically, the organization is "focused on connecting, protecting and restoring corridors of conserved lands and waters essential for the survival of Florida's diverse wildlife. The organization showcases the need to protect the missing links in the Corridor, preserve Florida's waters, and sustain working lands and rural economies from the Everglades to Georgia and Alabama."
The first expedition launched in 2012 from Everglades National Park, traveled north to central Florida, and finished in the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge in Georgia. Over a period of more than three months the team covered more than 1,000 miles through the heart of the state.
"Wild Florida is a little lesser known. We tend to live on the coast and look outwards. Everyone knows about Florida's beaches, but not necessarily its interior. I think a common perception of Florida really is just Disneyworld and beaches, but there's so much more to it! We're trying showcase this everyday through our travels," said FWC executive director and expedition member Mallory Dimmitt.
Through a series of education and awareness campaigns, the FWC team seeks to demonstrate the importance of preserving these fragile landscapes by highlighting the current and future environmental challenges; in the process, closing the disconnect between many Floridians and the wild side of their state.
On January 10th, the team commenced its second expedition, this time heading northwest towards the Florida Panhandle. On March 2nd they completed the Apalachicola leg of the journey, highlighting one of the nation's six biodiversity hotspots, known for fertile floodplains supporting more flora and fauna species than anywhere else in the United States and Canada.
This environment plays an integral role in the local economy, including the oyster industry, employing 2,500 people and generating more than $20 million in annual revenue according to the Florida Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services. Unfortunately, the future of the industry is facing fundamental threats like never before, including the loss of life-sustaining fresh water, loss of floodplain and wetland habitat, pollution and unrestrained human growth and development.
The next and final stop of the expedition is Gulf Islands National Seashore, where the team is scheduled to finish its expedition at Fort Pickens on Thursday. This protected coastline features offshore barrier islands known for sparkling white quartz beaches stretching along miles of undeveloped land. Unfortunately, the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill, as well as previous destruction from the 2004-2005 hurricane season, greatly impacted the local infrastructure, economy, and fragile ecosystems.
"It took this oil spill to really make people ban together and work on protecting the declining environmental preservation of the Gulf," said Mallory.
Jameson Clifton, a University of Utah student, is an editorial intern for the Traveler. He previously wrote about ski touring in Yellowstone National Park and sea kayaking at Fiordland National Park in New Zealand.