Photographer Carlton Ward Jr. set out across five states to capture what he calls the “many faces of the Gulf of Mexico” for
a Nature Conservancy story about the region’s ongoing recovery from several environmental disasters, including the Deepwater Horizon oil spill five years ago.
Ward sought out the people who witness the Gulf’s ecology firsthand, including researchers tracking black bears in the swampy Louisiana backwoods and Nature Conservancy staff tending corals in the waters off the Florida Keys. Documenting something as immense as the Gulf, and all the land and people it affects, required covering a lot of ground and water, and the magazine couldn’t include all of the favorite images. Here, we’ve rounded up some of the best outtakes from across the five-state shoot. (Read the story from our April/May issue
here). An oystercatcher forages among artificial reefs the Conservancy built in the mouth of Mobile Bay, Alabama, to provide a foundation for new oysters. Photo © Carlton Ward Jr. Conservancy biologist Megan Johnson transplants elkhorn coral to a reef in Dry Tortugas National Park in Florida. The Conservancy has been propagating the endangered coral at a nearby nursery site. “Dry Tortugas National Park is one of my favorite places in the world,” Ward says. “Though I normally free dive, to capture this image I was on scuba so I could settle in to the bottom among the corals to find the right composition and then wait for the right moment. I chose this perspective to emphasize the diversity of corals still thriving in parts of the reef.” Photo © Carlton Ward Jr. Conservancy aquatic ecologist Paul L. Freeman works in Alabama’s Cahaba River. “Typically the Cahaba River and its tributaries run clear,” Ward says. “But with my luck it had rained for three straight days before my scheduled visit to these headwaters hundreds of miles from the Gulf. It took a lot of exploring to find this little stream feeding into the Cahaba with clear enough water for some catch and release fishing to reveal the fish and its environment.” Photo © Carlton Ward Jr. Loaded with a fresh catch, a shrimp boat approaches the docks at Bayou La Batre, Alabama, a port town that served as the backdrop for scenes in the movie Forest Gump. Gulf waters support a fishing industry that supplies more than a third of the seafood Americans eat. Photo © Carlton Ward Jr. Many Vietnamese Americans such as Dung Nguyen immigrated to the United States in the wake of the Vietnam War and found work in the Gulf’s fishing industry. Today, they make up a large part of the workforce. “Few people spoke English,” Ward says. “The old man mending nets could only communicate with a nod and a smile.” Photo © Carlton Ward Jr. Cowboys Myron Charleston, left, and Michael Brown search for stray cows at Powderhorn Ranch, a 17,000-acre native coastal prairie habitat in Texas that the Conservancy helped preserve. “I like the photo because it shows the culture that is also conserved when working lands are protected from development,” Ward says. “Plus cowboys are quintessential Texas.” Photo © Carlton Ward Jr. Endangered Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle hatchlings are released at Padre Island National Seashore in Texas. “The perseverance of the baby sea turtles was really impressive,” Ward says. “They start their many steps toward the Gulf gathered tightly in a group, often crawling on top of one another.” Photo © Carlton Ward Jr. “The hatchlings would spread out as they moved close to the waves, often reaching the water one at a time,” Ward says. “When the struggle across the sand is over and a turtle is swimming for the first time, there is a sense of release and freedom as they glide beneath the waves, beginning a new journey that will hopefully allow a few of the siblings to survive and return to this same beach as their mother to continue the cycle.” Photo © Carlton Ward Jr. Researchers are working to reestablish the threatened Louisiana black bear in its historic range along the Mississippi River. Sean Murphy, Jake Graham and Matt Urmson use tracking devices and hair samples to gather information about the elusive animal. Photo © Carlton Ward Jr. “The best way to experience the Atchafalaya Basin is to get out in it,” says Ward, who shot some photos in Louisiana while stand up paddle boarding. “Shooting from a stand up paddleboard is a lot of fun, but also challenging to maintain position and keep balanced, especially if there is any current or wind.” Here Sean Murphy explores the cypress rim of Lake Fausse Pointe State Park at sunset. Photo © Carlton Ward Jr.
Opinions expressed on TALK and in any corresponding comments are the personal opinions of the original authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Nature Conservancy.