The drive from Miami International Airport down to the Keys is a pretty cool ride. Sure, you see a few strip malls and retired boat yards (most likely not detailed) for sale, but the water, housing, and grandeur of the Big Three on either side of the two-lane highway steals the attention of anyone calling a fisherman himself. / woman. This water was already on my mind because I had traveled down to Islamorada to learn more about Orvis’ new film and to take a short tour of Florida Bay and enter the Everglades. A rainstorm that seemingly came out of nowhere kept us from some of the planned spots, but the water a short way out from the Angler’s House in Islamorada was inundated with a persistent algal bloom, threatening the seagrass and Florida Bay fisheries. .
That legendary fishing destination once produced some of the world’s largest bonefish—legitimate world records—but it’s dying because we (humans) disrupted the natural flow of South Florida’s freshwater. Today, Florida Bay receives only a quarter of the fresh water it needs to sustain the seagrasses that are the backbone of the ecosystem, which is on the brink of collapse. And it’s not just Florida Bay; the water crisis in one way or another affects the water in 18,000 square miles from coast to coast.
“I’m not an engineer or a scientist, but when you look at how we tried to artificially create something that was never meant to be [Lake Okeechobee], you can tell just by looking at it that it’s not a viable solution.” – Simon Perkins, President of Orvis
The new Orvis film “Follow the Water” features cousins Simon and Hannah Perkins (President and Women’s Product Development at Orvis, respectively) who fish from top to bottom 240 miles through this connected watershed and talk about its problems many, but also emphasize what it will take to save them. Fortunately, we know what needs to happen to save these places and the communities they support: restore the natural flow of water into and through the Everglades, or simply send it South.
It’s a simple solution with excruciating complexity and nuance. Scientists and public officials have known what needed to happen for decades, but politics, the influence of a powerful industry, and inadequate funding have prevented tangible progress toward restoring water flow south through the Everglades. Today, Captains for Clean Water and The Everglades Foundation, and many others, are moving the needle thanks to their tremendous support both locally in Florida and across the country. This ‘alliance’ between the Captains and the Everglades Foundation forms an extremely effective partnership that is securing wins for South Florida water.
Take, for example, the one-two punch of a Dr. An enthusiastic Steve Davis, Chief Scientist from the Everglades Foundation, followed by an impassioned Captain Benny Blanco. Sitting on the porch of the Angler House a few days ago, Steve explained the nitty-gritty of Everglades restoration and the scientific processes at play, and then Benny went on to share how important these waters are to him and how he hopes his daughters to have a Witness Day of what water should look like – is as effective protective messages as there are. This combination of science and true passion is nothing short of explosive. And when you throw in the ability of Captains for Clean Water to spread that message and bring people together across ideologies and backgrounds, you have a well-oiled machine that will put points on the board. Now, throw a brand like Orvis into the mix… now that is some high octane stuff.
The objective of this film for Orvis, Captains for Clean Water and The Everglades Foundation was simple, yes, literally. Restoring the Everglades and repairing chronic water mismanagement in South Florida can be incredibly complex. You are talking billions of state or feds dollars, 20 years of CERP, dozens of individual projects, hydrology, changing weather patterns, Lake Okeechobee discharges, cyanobacteria, red tides, blue-green algae, hypersalinity, nutrient overload . Still, the language of Florida’s water crises is common to the folks at Captains for Clean Water and the Everglades Foundation. Even some of you all probably have a firm grasp on Everglades Restoration, or at least know that there seem to be water crises every year that threaten some of the nation’s greatest fisheries. However, the average American, who may roam the outdoors, but loves it and believes in protecting wild places, they may not know about these issues.
Who is this film for; is a way to simplify the complex concept of Everglades restoration and to educate and spread awareness through the vast and diverse community of Orvis. Because, at a 10,000′ conceptual level, the solution is simple: we need to restore the natural water path through the Everglades by sending more water south in order to save these special ecosystems and fisheries.
Rapid Fire with Simon Perkins, President of Orvis
WP: Simon, the other day you gave three main reasons for Orvis to produce this film and get even more involved in the fight for clean water. Can you talk about your third motivation and how special the waters of South Florida are to you, your family, and the history/tradition at Orvis?
Simon: There are many families that have a special connection to the Everglades, as it is one of the nation’s most incredible and iconic fisheries. In our family, many, including our fathers, have a special relationship with the area, but it all started with my grandfather. He first visited the Everglades with his mother in the 1940s before it was a national park, convincing charter captains to take them out on a boat so they could fish for tarpon and other species with a fly rod. (you can imagine this produced a lot of raised eyebrows at the time). It was then that he fell in love with the Everglades and spent many days of his life exploring the glades with some of his closest friends. So it’s no surprise that it was the Everglades where he chose to spend his birthday each year, living for two weeks on a houseboat in the middle of the Everglades with family and friends, fishing the park and learning from seen for its incredible ecosystem. . It was a very special place for him. Our grandfather died last year, and so on our last night on the set of Follow the Water, with a storm approaching creating a dramatic sunset over the tarpon in the middle of the park, we sprinkled some of his ashes that he could spend the rest. of time in one of his favorite places on earth.
WP: Throughout this adventure, you and Hannah have been able to experience some incredibly diverse fishing, from freshwater channels to the hyper-saline waters that plague Florida Bay right now. Any good fish stories along the way?
Simon: There is nothing like being with someone the first time they come face to face with a large tarpon while standing on the bow of a boat. Hannah has caught many fish all over the world, but she hadn’t had the opportunity to throw full-grown tarpon before our trip to the Everglades. Watching her experience the anticipation, excitement and sudden loss of self-control (and the words that flowed during that moment) when the first tarpon rolled in front of her was incredible. This is one of those moments that makes you feel small in the most amazing ways, as you are reminded that you are part of something much bigger than you. She, Ben and I all had giant smiles on our faces the whole time.
One of our grandfather’s favorite aspects about the Everglades was that it is one of the few places where you can fish for native giant tarpon and native smallmouth bass on the same day, in the same boat, on the same fishery. The ecosystem created by the combination of fresh and salt water is so unique, which is why the Everglades are home to over 2,000 species of plants and animals (including one of the only places where alligators and saltwater crocodiles co-exist). Being able to fish a system with such an incredible range of species was incredible and something that made us both feel connected to a special feature of the Everglades that we knew our grandfather held dear.
WP: Without a doubt, Orvis has one of the largest rigs in the industry – and not just the fly fishing industry, but the largest outdoor economy. So first, props to the Orvis team for engaging in conservation issues, a reputation that goes back decades. But I’m curious about your thought process as President of a large company to invest in conservation and the role you envision Orvis, and hopefully others, taking on in the future. Because, as much as I hate to admit it, there will be many battles to fight to protect these wild places and fisheries across the country.
Simon: One of the incredible things about places like the Everglades is that they bring people together—fishermen, hunters, outdoor enthusiasts, and industry as a whole. In the film, I mention that ultimately fly fishing is about connections with and between people, places and species, and the power in those connections is passed down from generation to generation. Everglades restoration and conservation work in other special places like Bristol Bay, Alaska, has brought people and groups together to create change, and now we will need the same collective strength within the climate-focused fishing and hunting industries. . The future of the sports and places we love depends on proactive steps to mitigate the impacts of climate change, and we all have a role to play.
Everglades restoration is not just habitat restoration, it is also a natural work of climate mitigation and resilience. Earlier this year we added a VP of Conservation and Sustainability to our team because we recognize that we have a responsibility to be a more sustainable company with a strategy that aligns with our long history of commitment to our natural resources. The sport we all love relies on a finite resource. We’re in trouble if people and companies in this industry aren’t taking (and investing in) a long-term view. To drive the necessary changes at scale, industry will need to come together for climate as we have in Everglades restoration to share knowledge, take action, and make progress on urgent and fundamental sustainability issues.
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