Xavier Cortada and I met during the Rising Waters Confab at the Robert Rauschenberg Artists in Residence #12 on Captiva Island. This particular gathering brought not only visionary artists from a multitude of disciplines but also climate scientists, coastal biologists, landscape architects and others who study and have witnessed the effects of climate change and sea level rise.
Once I learned of Xavier’s work with students at U of F regarding engineering water flow, I knew I had the right artist to help me draw attention to the plight of the Caloosahatchee and greater Everglades ecosystem. The more I explored Xavier’s work, the more enthralled I became at the magnificent creative genius who could blend his art with conservation, restoration and education. His depth of knowledge of the south Florida ecosystems made him the perfect match for my project Caloosahatchee CLEER. His art begs for conversation.
The Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation (SCCF), dedicated to preservation of wildlife habitat and aquatic resources throughout the islands and watershed has dedicated a tremendous amount of its staff’s time and talent to documenting the changes in water quality, maintaining a series of water sensors, developing relationships with local businesses, governmental agencies and citizens, networking with a large number of NGO’s throughout the greater Everglades ecosystem.
The project Caloosahatchee CLEER, (Create, Learn, Engage, Exchange and Restore) is a grant from the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation to involve a broader audience of people in the political dialog necessary to bring change to the future of water quality in the river and bay. It is intended to nurture a respect for all the watercourse means to people for recreation and reflection; and sustaining a home for aquatic wildlife and their habitat.
Xavier and I spent some wonderful mornings on Captiva’s beach patrolling for new sea turtle nests as part of SCCF’s research. We asked ourselves if it was better to embrace the entire ecosystem of the river; its myriads of changes in quality through time; the engineered changes in the watercourse and finally concluded four totemic animals might best tell the story.
Largemouth bass reside in the lake and upper river area. Fishing tournaments draw fishermen from all over the world during the winter season. Ask any avid angler and they know of Lake Okeechobee’s famous bass fishing.
The Smalltooth sawfish once ranging from North Carolina to Texas has, essentially, a last toehold in the sandy shoals near the mouth of the river. It is here researchers have been able to locate juveniles. So rare is this fish, that every shred of data is relished. Anyone spotting a small tooth sawfish is asked to report it to a special hotline 352-392-2360.
The Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles are arguably the most endangered sea turtle in the world. Although a very rare nester in this area, juveniles are known to live temporarily in the back bay waters of Pine Island Sound. A short term grant allowed researchers to radio tag several of these reptiles that feed on the spider crabs nestled in the sea grass beds. The turtles wandered as temperatures of the water fluctuated. It appears Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtles have an aversion to cold water.
The Bottlenose dolphin was chosen for its natural charisma. The local dolphin population stays in the bay and near-shore waters year-round. Why migrate if you have what you need? It has been determined through dorsal fin photo identification that 300-400 dolphins live, feed, breed and play in the upper Pine Island Sound area.
The Caloosahatchee and the Pine Island Sound area have suffered assaults from poor water quality flowing downstream and yet still managed to have survived better than similar areas around the state. It is a rarified place with federally endangered Kemps Ridleys, West Indian manatees and Smalltooth sawfish still finding a fragment of refuge in these waters. The four works created by Xavier Cortada will help to highlight the plight of this area and be used efforts to raise awareness and inform the voting public that the future of this wild, watery place is in their hands.
As education director of SCCF, I challenge myself to use all means necessary to translate the scientists’ and policy staff’s work into incremental, understandable pieces that move people to action. This in part, is to increase awareness in the power of the voters to change course. In 2014, an overwhelming 75% of Florida voters endorsed a constitutional amendment for land and water conservation. That decision may have caught legislators by surprise because the State’s 2015-2016 budget failed to reflect the will of the people.
Xavier Cortada’s works will help draw attention to the fate of the water and stimulate conversation for conservation.
Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation
PO Box 839, Sanibel FL 33957