Everglades photos by Mac Stone: Bird of prey

All photos: Mac Stone

Inspired by the vastness and diversity of the Everglades, award-winning conservation photographer (and native Floridian) Mac Stone spent the last several years documenting the scenery and wildlife found not just in the national park, but also the wetland's most far-flung and lesser-visited areas.

The culmination of his hard work is "Everglades: America's Wetland." From intimate wildlife close-ups to sweeping aerial views, the gorgeous photo book treats readers to a swoon-worthy experience that highlights "the resilience of the largest subtropical wilderness in the United States."

Everglades photos by Mac Stone: Sunrise

You've probably heard of (or even visited) Everglades National Park, but did you know this federally protected area only constitutes a mere 20 percent of the Everglade's original footprint?

The watershed system that feeds this tropical wetland wilderness actually begins in central Florida, travels south to the shallow Okeechobee Lake and then empties out into Florida Bay. Along the way, the 60-mile-wide "River of Grass" passes through sawgrass marshes, cypress swamps, hardwood hammocks, dry pineland, mangrove prairies and the aquatic ecosystem of the terminal Florida Bay.

Everglades photos by Mac Stone: Fish underwater

In the video below, we see just how far Stone was willing to go to capture one of the most striking images in the collection.

"There is hardly a bird more emblematic of the impacts of mankind and the biological conditioning of this habitat than the endangered snail kite," explains Stone, who had to work with biologists to receive permission to even get close to the bird.

The extra red tape was worth it, though, and now the epic shot graces the cover of the book.

Continue below for more photos from the book, as well as an interview with Stone about his connection to the Everglades and what it was like to put together this book.

Everglades photos by Mac Stone: Aqua colored water

MNN: Why is photography important for conservation work?

Mac Stone: We are visual creatures. We use what we see to teach us what we know. The majority of the general public will not slog out into a swamp known to harbor alligators, so how can I expect those same people to advocate on behalf of its protection? My job, then, is to use photography as a medium to provide the emotional bridge between science and aesthetics.

Showing the public the wilderness areas of the Southeast has been my greatest pleasure. When we stop seeing these wetlands as wastelands and instead see them as incredible outposts for wildlife and adventure, we’re much more likely to fight for their protection.

Everglades photos by Mac Stone: Alligator and diver

What led you to a career in photography?

It was a natural fit for me. In high school, I was constantly out exploring the springs and swamps around my hometown in Gainesville. I found my dad’s old Minolta SRT101 in his closet and started bringing it along with me.

I really wanted to show my friends all the incredible things I was finding, so it pushed me to make better and better photos to be more true to the moment. Soon, though, I started going out earlier and staying out later for the good light. I was hooked by the time I was 16. After that, it was just good old-fashioned inertia that kept me chasing stories and images that would help serve a greater purpose of protecting the places I had come to love.

Everglades photos by Mac Stone: Mangroves at night

What inspired you to focus specifically on wetland conservation issues in Florida?

I grew up fighting imaginary monsters in the backwoods of Florida. The swamps were my playground and the source of my greatest inspirations. So much of who I am is tied to these habitats. I think I have blackwater running through my veins.

During the '90s and early 2000s, however, Florida was going through a major boom in development. I watched my favorite hideaways and oak hammocks paved over in a matter of years. I could hear the same narrative echo all over the Southeast.

Focusing on wetland conservation wasn’t necessarily something I decided; it was just a natural progression. I love these habitats deeply and I think ever since we came to this continent, we’ve been fed a fable that has kept the bulldozers running and the public disinterested. Besides the obligation I feel to be one of their ambassadors, swamps simply have some of the most spectacular scenery I’ve ever experienced. It’s hard to feel any closer to primitive wilderness than in an old growth cypress slough.

Everglades photos by Mac Stone: Owls and grasslands

Can you tell us a little bit about the new book?

For three years, I worked with the National Audubon Society in the Everglades Science Center on Everglades restoration efforts. I spent the next two years traveling and photographing the various ecosystems and species that make this incredible watershed one of the most unique regions of the country. Coordinating with various agencies and nonprofits, I had access to remote areas of the Everglades where few are permitted to go.

Five years of work have been condensed down into 304 pages, 240 images, and 15 essays from some of the top minds in Everglades conservation, published by University Press of Florida. I pulled out all the stops on this project; swimming in mangrove flats with dozens of sharks, flying at 1,000 feet in a helicopter over basking crocodiles (below), and waiting days on end to photograph an endangered snail kite hunting on the wing. "Everglades: America’s Wetland" is a culmination of my best work.

Everglades photos by Mac Stone: Milky Way

What do you hope readers will take away from this book?

For the majority of Americans and even the Floridians who live on the fringe of this wilderness, the Everglades is somewhat of an abstraction.

A friend from New York once asked me, "Why should I care about Everglades restoration?" I answered his question with another one, "Would you ask the same thing if it were Yosemite, the Grand Canyon, or Yellowstone?"

This book is the most complete answer I can come up with for that question. The Everglades is as unique and definitive of our national identity as our other heralded natural resources. Not only should we be proud to be its stewards, but also we should fight for its protection.

My hope is to rewrite the negative narrative that is so commonly tied to this watershed and rally the country around our most iconic wetland. The Everglades is not only one of our greatest tests, it’s also our gift, and ultimately, our responsibility. It’s America’s wetland.

Everglades photos by Mac Stone: Alligators sunbathing

Have you explored any other environmental topics through your photography in the past?

After graduating college, I worked in the tropical forests of Honduras on the northern coast. For two years, I taught photography to children along the Cangrejal River watershed as a way to raise environmental awareness within their mountain villages. I carried this project to the Bay Islands to bridge the various cultures and communities within the watershed to show how the health of the Caribbean reefs were connected with the tropical forests island.

The project was a huge success and we held galleries, exhibits, and presentations to many policy makers in La Ceiba. Some of the children have gone on to win international competitions with their photography.

Everglades photos by Mac Stone: Mangrove forest

Follow Stone and his adventures on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Everglades photos by Mac Stone: Newborn birds

Everglades photos by Mac Stone: Scavenger and dead alligator

Everglades photos by Mac Stone: Snake

Everglades photos by Mac Stone: Sunrise

Everglades photos by Mac Stone: Anhinga

Catie Leary is a photo editor at Mother Nature Network. Follow her on Twitter and Google+.

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Catie Leary ( @catieleary ) writes about science, travel, animals and the arts.

Photographer belts out a love song to Everglades with new book
Conservation photographer documents the remote areas of the Everglades where few have set foot.