In June, photographer Carlton Ward Jr. went to the Dry Tortugas to illustrate a story on the Gulf of Mexico for Nature Conservancy magazine. He picked the national park because the health of its reefs is an exception among reefs in Florida. Coral reefs are in bad shape worldwide, especially in the upper Florida Keys, where runoff from development and pollution is a leading cause of decline. In Dry Tortugas National Park, the reefs, which host about 30 species of coral, are faring much better because they are 65 miles from the closest land and safeguarded as a marine protected area. Ward found the above patch of reef on the west side of Loggerhead Key (its lighthouse is visible in the photo). It took him several attempts over three days, swimming against strong currents and crosswinds, to stay in position long enough to make this split-level image. It will be part of a collection of his work he will display at the Mahaffey Theater's Mahaffey Gallery during the Blue Ocean Film Festival, which is Monday through Nov. 9 in St. Petersburg. Ward will participate in a panel discussion about the Florida Wildlife Corridor after the screening of a film by Elam Stoltzfus at 3 p.m. Tuesday. He will present a program on conservation photography at 2 p.m. Wednesday at the Museum of Fine Arts. "Perhaps the best thing we can do to protect the oceans is to take better care of the land," Ward says. "This is especially true in Florida, where continuing to invest in conservation and restoration of terrestrial ecosystems is essential for protecting freshwater and wildlife resources near our own back yards as well as the oceans to which they are all connected."
Bill Duryea, Times staff writer