Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Florida's Most Important Naturalist

This year 2009 is the one hundredth anniversary of the birth of Archie Carr, Florida’s most important naturalist.

What? You say. Who the Hell is Archie Carr and why is he so important?

When Archie was born, Florida was the last frontier. In the north were isolated farms scratching out a meager living. In the south were communities every bit as rough and rugged as Dodge City or Abilene. In fact, many of the desperadoes who the law ran out of The West, went to South Florida, just as mean and crooked as ever.

By the time Archie was fifty years old, most of the coasts were populated, and the plan, signed on by every politician and most Floridians, was to pave the entire state, replace marsh with green lawns and get rid permanently of the inconvenient critters. Archie by that time was a fixture at The University of Florida, and was showing generations of students the beauty and the value of what was slated for destruction. He wrote passionately of the natural world in Florida and argued for its preservation.

People listened to Archie, and slowly attitudes changed against destroying all of this unique natural environment.

His particular passion was saving the sea turtles from immanent extinction. He has been called the father of sea turtle research, and rightly so. Even beyond his field, his name is recognized for his commitment to the protection of these reptiles.

He didn’t win all the battles, he didn’t even win most. But he won a few, and most importantly he built a constituency of preservationists. By Archie’s death in 1987, even developers knew that had to pay at least lip service to the idea of preservation.

What makes Florida so special to most of us – the power dive of osprey fishing off a main beach, alligators sunning themselves in the Greenway, the abundant fish and shrimp we love so much, and so much more – we owe to a coconsiderable extent to Archie.

I am lobbying to dedicate the upcoming museum show on natural history to Archie. Its time for a thank you from Amelia Island..

So why is Archie more important than the Bartrams, Audubon, Catesby or Muir? Those people brought the glory of Florida’s flora and fauna to the world. Archie did that as well, but he saved it for future generations.

So now you know who Archie Carr was.