Expedition aims to save wild Florida - FOX 13 News

Expedition aims to save wild Florida

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TAMPA (FOX 13) -

The journey is as daunting as it sounds. Can humans freely roam north from Florida's southern everglades to the border of Georgia unimpeded?

Before rampant development started, Florida's natural wildlife roamed everywhere. Not anymore.

Nature and wildlife photographer Carlton Ward led a four-person expedition in 2012 on a trek through tough but awe-inspiring terrain for 100 days. The journey covered 1,000 miles.

"One of the most challenging things I have ever done. It was very physically intense. We had to paddle, and peddle, and hike every single day," Ward explained as he set up a photo exhibit of the expedition at the Tampa Bay History Museum.

They hiked and biked on land, canoed and kayaked on water, waded in swamps, and camped in the wild inhabited by gators, panthers, bears, and bobcats.

Yet nothing threatened them more than civilization.

"The most dangerous thing while we were out there was crossing highways.That was the scariest part of the expedition," said Ward, who is an 8th generation Floridian.

What they were up against also impacts natural wildlife to the point of near extinction, such as the Florida panther.

The intent of the expedition is to raise awareness and create a call to action to preserve land and build highway underpasses so wildlife can freely roam from one end of Florida to another.

"We were in Volusia County, and we were scampering across the top of Interstate 4, kind of between spring break traffic, and they don't have any functioning underpasses," Ward said.

This type of free-range roaming is called a wildlife corridor. Only a few areas in the state make accommodations for safe animal passage. One is near the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge.

"Right beneath Interstate 75, there is a wildlife underpass," which Ward described as easy passage for his expedition. "And in doing so we could see the tracks of panthers and bears and bobcats and coyotes moving back and forth in the mud."

The Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition: The Photographs of Carlton Ward Jr. is on display at the Tampa Bay History Center through May 5.

Ward's team also produced a documentary about its journey. There is a free public screening at the center this Sunday, March 3 at 6:30pm before its broadcast premiere later this spring on WUSF and then other public stations around Florida.

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