Mark Cook: When Flows Return to the River of Grass - 3D virtual exhibition by MartinArts

Mark Cook: When Flows Return to the River of Grass

The vast Everglades “River of Grass” is a subtropical wetland wilderness comprising a mosaic of watery sloughs, sawgrass prairies and tree islands in the freshwater marshes, and mangrove swamps, coastal lakes, and open-water bays along the estuarine coast. Historically sculpted and sustained by seasonally pulsed flows emerging from Lake Okeechobee, the Everglades once supported a treasure trove of biodiversity, and was characterized by its enormous colonies of water birds, and healthy populations of large predators such as alligators and crocodiles. Yet, human engineering and drainage of the wetlands for water supply, flood protection and development significantly altered the distribution of water and curtailed flows to the southern Everglades and Florida Bay, with severe consequences for its ecology. Today’s Everglades retains aquatic habitats that support important plant and animal communities, but the range of conditions is limited, and with this the abundance and diversity of life has dramatically declined.

In a marriage of art and science, this collection of photographs by wildlife ecologist and photographer Dr. Mark Cook is witness to the rapid transformations that occurred after record-breaking seasonal rainfall flooded the River of Grass and sent freshwater once again flowing south into Florida Bay. Photographed during his scientific surveys, Mark’s images capture the remarkable ecological responses to the flows: the return of massive flocks of foraging water birds, huge nesting colonies of storks and ibises, and an abundance of healthy predators set within expansive watery landscapes. His unique vantage points, both from the air and the ground, shine a light on the profusion of life in this wild, wonderful, and inaccessible landscape that few people get to experience firsthand. Most crucially, the images reflect the resiliency of the Everglades; if we give nature a chance it comes bouncing back again! This gives us hope that if we replenish the flows and send more water south we can restore this magnificent ecosystem.

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