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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.'

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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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