Friends of the Everglades

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A few days later I toured the park with Dr. Frank Craighead,. Sr., a noted ecologist. On our first stop we left the car to walk to a gator hole. Suddenly, Dr. Craig­head broke into a run and dove at the ground.

“I missed it,” he lamented. Then I saw the five-foot indigo snake slide over the crest bor­dering the hole. I studied in admiration the wiry 81-year-old man, whose strong features bore the imprint of many outdoor years.

As we drove toward Flamingo, he told me: “When I first came to the Everglades, in 1917, I was tremendously impressed by the lush growth here. Huge trees in the ham­mocks were festooned with bromeliads and orchids. It wasn’t until I returned to live here in 1950 that I fully realized the damage caused by drainage and development.Friends of the Everglades

“Even so, I could still take my canoe out almost anywhere in those days—and I would see alligators everywhere. I estimated a population of about two million in 1950. I believe that poaching and the lack of water have now decreased that number by 98 or 99 percent.”

It took no expert to see how dry the park was. At Shark River Slough ranger station, the water hole was crammed with fish that had died for lack of oxygen as the water level dropped.

“Many life systems in the park couldn’t exist if it were completely isolated,” said Dr. Craighead. “If development continues right up to the boundaries, conditions within will be so altered that I don’t see how the wild­life can survive.”

Other worried conservationists, led by author Marjory Stoneman Douglas, who wrote the popular classic Everglades, River of Grass, have formed a group called Friends of the Everglades.

“We’re trying to convince people that the future of all south Florida and the park depends on new, intelligent management of water,” she explains. “Without that, south Florida will be a desert. Much of the Big Cypress must be controlled by government. Overdrainage, more canals, land loss, water pollution, salt intrusion, fires, bad land man­agement, must be stopped. Perhaps we still have time and alternative options such as to finance the management”.

Exploring Australia’s Coral Jungle

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WE HAD LEFT THE COAST at midnight, traversing in darkness the region of dull sea and dimmed air that man and nature create along the limit of earth’s landmasses. At dawn we had entered the water world of the planet’s most marvelous complex of coral, Aus­tralia’s Great Barrier Reef. We stood in the bow, photographer Bates Littlehales and I, old diving partners, staring 150 feet straight down into azure emptiness. We were able to explore this amazing place thanks to the financial help of four five.Exploring Australia’s Coral Jungle

“You could lose your soul in that color,” Bates said. “There’s no blue like it.” “This is Coral Sea water,” I said. “From here on out everything is ocean, or formed by the ocean and ocean creatures. Even the islands, like Fairfax there.”

On the horizon lay a coral cay, sea-built of coral sand, forested by seeds brought by the wind, birds, and ocean currents. Like all islets at the southern end of the reef com­plex, it perched on a reef far greater than itself, an expanse of coral just awash at low tide. As we approached the reef edge, the bottom came up from 150 feet to 50. Born­mies—coral heads—reared straight up to within a yard or two of the surface, amber brown, menacing. Coral clumps glowed blue and red and acid green. Fish flew like birds among their branches.

Every detail of the undersea landscape stood revealed. The water seemed to van­ish. It appeared as inadequate as air to support our 20-ton fishing boat.

That staggering clarity graces the realm of the Great Barrier, as we would discover in the course of more than one hundred dives, by day and by night, along most of its 1,250-mile length.

We picked a coral pinnacle that rose 40 feet out of white sand for our first dive. We rigged up and went down to sense the atmosphere of the coral community, to feel the pulsing life of the reef and be part of it.Exploring

Suspended, freed from the force of grav­ity, we flew through water as a bird flies through air, soaring, plunging, turning. We circled the bommie’s base. The bulk of our mesalike promontory was dead matter, either coral rock or detritus soon to be cemented by algal growth and chemical action into rock. But all its substance was the product of the live coral and other living things whose present generations adorned its surfaces and surroundings in greater numbers and wilder variety than occur anywhere else on earth. No niche of nature is more exuberantly alive.

Shoals of glittering fry hung beside the coral cliffs, flashing in unison as they turned in response to some secret signal. They suggested molecules set in a crystal. Each shoal parted as we swam through. Schools of kingfish and bonito sped in, circled, and sped away. Blue-water wan­derers, transients in the coral reef com­munity, they wore unremarkable sea colors to hide where no hiding place existed.