Heroes

13 gorgeous photos of wild Florida that show why it's worth saving.

'I think if everyone would spend just a little bit of time experiencing our natural spaces, they would fall in love with them the way I have, and we’d have an unstoppable force for their protection.'

13 gorgeous photos of wild Florida that show why it's worth saving.
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Nature Valley

"Half the time I’m making my best pictures, I’m waist-deep in water," says Floridian photographer Carlton Ward.

While that might sound strange for the average photographer, it makes sense given Ward's speciality, which is wilderness conservation.

Carlton Ward in his element. Photo via Upworthy.


Ward spends most of his time making his way through the lush Everglades of the Florida Wildlife Corridor in order to capture its majesty on camera in as many ways as possible.

And the corridor is no small territory. Its nearly 16 million acres are home to thousands of different species, including over 40 endangered or threatened animals, such as the whooping crane, the Florida panther, and the west Indian manatee.

Together with members of his conservation team, Ward has crossed 1,000 miles of it — twice.

Obviously Ward's not afraid to get his feet wet to save wild Florida from encroaching land developments.

Ward paddling through the glades. Photo via Upworthy.

According to Ward, 100,000 acres of land are given over to housing growth every year, which means pretty soon there won't be any room left for the wildlife living in the corridor.

But it's not just about the flora and fauna — the encroachment also threatens local residents' drinking water.

"The Everglades watershed provides water for 9 million people," Ward explains. "So this is our water tower. This is absolutely essential for humans to survive on this peninsula."

In order to further protect the corridor and all who rely on it, he created the Florida Wildlife Corridor organization.

Image via iStock.

FWC utilizes science and unforgettable imagery to raise awareness around the corridor's plight and to get people to realize why it needs to be saved.

Perhaps the most amazing aspect of Florida's wild territories is that they're mostly connected throughout the state. FWC is working tirelessly not only to protect that natural network, but restore it. They have a goal of conserving 10% of it every year so that 300,000 acres are saved by 2020.

Ward's photos have already inspired a network of devoted followers. Now he's rallying them to get out in the wild and share their own experiences.

"I think if everyone would spend just a little bit of time experiencing our natural spaces, they would fall in love with them the way I have, and we’d have an unstoppable force for their protection," Ward says.

He asks them to share their Florida photos under #KeepFLWild to help highlight the conservation mission.

And they're obliging.

A son took a photo of his father at Suwannee State Park.

Someone else captured a great egret on a branch.

Just take a look at Ward's incredible shots, and you'll understand why he's inspiring so many people to venture out into the glades.

Here's a 100-year-old long-leaf pine standing against the clouds:

And a couple of spoonbills taking flight.

These are marsh islands at sunset.

A scaly Florida resident makes an appearance.

This Ogeechee tupelo tree sits near the Florida-Georgia border.

Ogeechee Tupelo - one of my favorite landscape photos, shot on the Suwannee River near the Georgia Florida border on day 96 of the 2012 @fl_wildcorridor expedition from Everglades National Park to the Okefenokee Swamp. It was drizzling this day. A four second long exposure on a tripod soaked in the even light and vibrancy of the emergent spring leaves. A polarizing filter, partially turned, cut through sheen of the water to reveal the surreal orange of the shallow white sandbar glowing through tannin stained swamp water while retaining the reflection of the tree on the surface. Our original expedition route would have had us hiking the final week through the Pinkook Swamp but a 30,000-acre wildfire there pushed us further west to paddle upstream on the Suwannee. It was so shallow we had to drag our boats at times but the scenery was some of the most beautiful of the whole Expedition and this photograph became my most collected print. I heard the river water was 16 feet higher the next year. From the perspective of my current project, the Okefenokee is excellent panther habitat. Hopefully a breeding population can establish there someday. Please share. #suwannee #tupelo #hope #okefenokee #floridawild #keepFLWild #landscape #river

A post shared by Carlton Ward Jr (@carltonward) on

Finally, meet the elusive ghost orchid, which only blooms in the wild in Florida.

Thanks to Ward's talent and spirit, what makes wild Florida precious is crystal clear. He might very well be what saves it.

As long as other adventurers keep following in his footsteps, that is. After all, the Everglades may be his natural habitat, but he's only one man. More will have to step off the beaten path to keep Florida's wildlands safe.

"There’s a wild side to Florida that’s hiding in plain sight," Ward says. Sometimes you just have to get a little messy to find it.

Ward getting down into the glades with his assistant. Photo via Upworthy.

See more of Ward's amazing work here:

He goes to extreme lengths to get these stunning photos. And the results are helping to save hundreds of species.

Posted by Upworthy on Thursday, August 24, 2017

Corrections 8/30/2017: The post misstated the amount of land given over to housing growth each year. The correct number is 100,000 acres. It also misidentified a great egret as a whooping crane.

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When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

Photo by Tod Perry

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