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See Seven Captivating Images from Photographer Mac Stone's New Book for The Everglades Foundation

The Gainesville conservationist captured roaming Florida panthers, rainbows over tree islands, and basking alligators in the name of saving the “river of grass”

By Lindsey Liles | Garden & Gun Magazine

April 3, 2024

Lake Russell, which sits at the headwaters of the Everglades. PHOTO: MAC STONE

When it comes to protecting Florida’s Everglades, there’s a lot at stake: The huge, subtropical wetland harbors ancient cypress trees, 350 species of wildlife ranging from the Florida panther to a tree snail, more than 450,00 acres of mangrove forests, and the largest continuous seagrass meadows on the planet. It’s a World Heritage Site, an International Biosphere Reserve, a Wetland of International Importance, and a jewel of Florida that is still under threat from years of human modification and development. And all of that—the biodiversity, the vastness, and the vulnerability—is on display in Florida-born conservation photographer Mac Stone’s work for The Everglades Foundation, a nonprofit whose sole mission is to save the giant wetland system.

Thirty years ago, a pair of fishing buddies who witnessed a seagrass die-off in the Keys teamed up to form the organization and kickstart efforts to reconnect what early conservationist and writer Marjory Stoneman Douglas dubbed the river of grass. “The headwaters of the system start way up in Orlando, and restoration means reconnecting those waterways all the way down to Florida Bay,” explains Jodi Farrell, the foundation’s development director. “We have lost more than half of it, and we are trying to save what’s left.” To that end, the organization meets with policymakers to illustrate the importance of the project, raises money from private donors, and provides the science to guide restoration. For example, the foundation led the charge on the Tamiami Trail, 284 miles of asphalt highway built a century ago to connect Tampa to Miami that stopped all water flow from the Everglades into Florida Bay. Now, the highway is all bridged, allowing water flow to continue and wildlife to resurge.

Today, the Foundation is also in the third and final year of an endowment campaign to raise $75 million dollars and ensure the nonprofit can keep running. As a special gift for donors to the campaign, they enlisted Stone to produce a book of images that capture the heart of the foundation’s mission. Stone ventured on foot, by boat, and via helicopter into the deepest reaches of Florida’s swamps and wetlands to capture intimate—and shockingly hard to get—images of the state’s flora, fauna, and landscapes, including roseate spoonbills, ghost orchids, mangrove islands, and Florida panthers. “Mac illustrates the incredible biodiversity of the Everglades…when you look at his photographs, it really hits home what an important, massive undertaking this is,” Farrell says. “This book has become a symbol of what this effort, the largest ecosystem restoration project in the world, is all about.”

Below, see seven of the photographs—some of which were on Stone’s list of dream images to capture—and learn the story behind the shots. 

Read the Q&A with Mac Stone here.


On nausea-inducing helicopter rides, Stone captured these Atlantic bottlenose dolphins in the middle of a unique feeding behavior only known to Florida: The cetaceans use their tails to stir up an ever-tightening mud ring around fish like mullet, which, to escape the confusion, leap from the water into the waiting dolphins’ mouths. The fourth dolphin on the left is a calf, gleaning the generational knowledge. “We traversed Florida Bay for days, sometimes locked in a dead spin,” Stone says. “I was looking through a 500-millimeter lens just firing frames and puking into my Nalgene, waiting for this shot with the spiral of mud and fish flying through the air.”


“Remote camera trapping can be extremely frustrating,” Stone says. “Bears come and knock things over; plants grow right up in front of the camera; the light is wrong.” Still, the carefully planned and long-awaited shots that result offer a window into a secret world. Here, deep in Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, this endangered Florida panther—one of just two hundred that still roam the sloughs and uplands of the Everglades—walks along a game trail at night, the shadows of Virginia chain ferns dappling its coat.


On June 19, 2022, past midnight, Stone was out photographing a stand of bald cypress trees under a star-studded night sky when SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket burst into the frame. It’s the second time this has happened—Stone jokes that Elon Musk is trolling him—and a reminder that even in the remote reaches of wilderness, the skies bear evidence of the new age of human space exploration. 


After the billowing American lotus flower is pollinated, it transforms into an otherworldly seed pod that entices waterfowl and other birds to pluck out the bounty and spread the seeds across the aquatic plant’s wetland habitat. For this image on a white background, meant to isolate the subject and focus on form, Stone took individual portraits of the plants. He then stitched them together in what he calls an “alien bouquet” of the pods and blooms in different stages. “How crazy is it that these little shower-head-shaped, Martian-looking plants live in our swamps?” 


On the remote, mammal-free mangrove islands dotting Florida Bay, ground-nesting great white herons raising young chicks have devised a clever trick. “In the most ‘metal’ parenting hack ever, they just plop these dainty little chicks in the middle of prickly pear cactus fields so they’re safe and don’t wander off,” Stone says and laughs. “And the parents just hang out in the tops of the trees, unconcerned.” He calls this photo “My Brother’s Keeper”—the chick’s wing rests on a sibling egg, waiting to hatch. 


Near Taylor Slough, a key conduit for providing fresh water to Florida Bay, rainbows arch over this nutrient-low swathe of the Everglades. Circular tree islands of dwarf mangroves dot the landscape. Each is its own pocket of biodiversity, home to endemic species of snails and orchids that differ from one island to the next. “I wanted an homage to this very strange-looking landscape that you can’t see anywhere else in the continental United States,” Stone says. “I was out in a helicopter to shoot the tree islands during a storm, and then this beautiful double rainbow appeared.”


From a helicopter flying over Cowbone Marsh west of Lake Okeechobee, Stone captured this group of alligators basking on a sandy shore in the early morning light. The cold-blooded reptiles frequent the area—including Fisheating Creek, the only waterway untouched by man that feeds the lake. “This is my version of a 1950s postcard of the state,” he says. “I wanted to capture Old Florida.”

See the article on Garden & Gun.


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