As far as visuals go, Everglades National Park might have gotten the shorter end of the stick amongst the UNESCO World Heritage Sites. It’s hard to think of one image from the ground that leaves me breathless and in awe of nature’s creation or human accomplishments. As our DoP likes to say, “The Everglades? Meh…not so much…” which I believe is Australian for “I’m not impressed”. So while I rationally understood the Park’s conservation story before filming began, my heart stood still -- swayed only occasionally by the passionate individuals that I spoke with over the phone. But then, I went there.
It was there, while zipping through the Everglades on an airboat, clutching my cap and sunglasses, that I understood how the Everglades can make your heart race. It was there when the boat stopped and we were surrounded by the endless expanse of a blue sky, water and vegetations and all that can be heard were the occasional birds flying by, that the Everglades drew me in. It was a brief moment, as we had an nuisance alligator to catch, but it was a moment that pushed me into the open space so still that I had a slight sense of how small we were and how amazing it was that we were there, in a place so out of place amongst concrete jungles that defined most of our lives. And so, my heart fell for this place. It was then that I not only understood this place should be saved but I felt it as well.
During the filming we met a handful of individuals, and spoke to even more prior to arriving, that believed in this as well - that Everglades National Park and the Everglades needs to be preserved. But beyond that core agreement, ideas of how to save the wetlands varied and at times, conflicted. It seemed like what might be good for the birds might be disastrous for the trees or that saving one area might hurt another. Sometimes it felt like people focused on their personal piece of the conservation story at the danger of discounting the greater picture. Yet as we explored John Tigertail’s self- built animal sanctuary and sat riveted as David Guest recounted the decades-long battle to save Everglades’ water, I can’t help but feel that if anything was going to save the Everglades it would be the dedicated passion of those whose lives were inseparable from the River of Grass itself.
The other day I heard someone suggest, on a podcast, that Hurricane Katrina happened not only because of human engineering failure in building tall enough dams and sturdy enough foundations but also because we systematically removed and destroyed the wetlands of New Orleans in the name of urban development, commerce and profit. And I’m thinking, the Everglades is the largest wetland in the United States and it also was drained in the name of development. What will happen when it disappears?