The drive from Miami International Airport down into the Keys is a pretty cool ride. Sure, you see some strip malls and yards of retired (more than likely not seaworthy) boats for sale, but the water, flats, and the grander of the Big Three on either side of the two-lane highway steal the attention of anyone calling themselves a fisherman/woman. This water was already on my mind, because I had traveled down Islamorada to learn more about Orvis’ new film and do a short tour of Florida Bay and get into the Everglades. A rain storm that seemingly stirred up out of nowhere kept us from some of the scheduled spots, but the water during our short run out of the Angler House in Islamorada was overrun by an ongoing algal bloom, threatening the seagrass and fisheries of Florida Bay.
That legendary fishing destination once produced some of the biggest bonefish in the world—legitimate world records—but it’s dying because we (humans) disrupted the natural flow of freshwater in South Florida. Today, Florida Bay receives only a quarter of the fresh water it needs to sustain the seagrasses that are the linchpin of the ecosystem, which is on the brink of collapse. And it’s not just Florida Bay; the water crisis in some way or another impacts water across 18,000 square mile 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 understand just by looking at it that is not a viable solution.” –Simon Perkins, President of Orvis
Orvis’ new film “Follow the Water” features cousins Simon and Hannah Perkins (President and Women’s Product Development at Orvis, respectively) who fish top-to-bottom 240 miles through this connected watershed and speak to its many issues, but also highlight 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 needs to happen for decades, but politics, the influence of a powerful industry, and adequate funding prevented tangible progress toward restoring the flow of water South through the Everglades. Today, Captains for Clean Water and The Everglades Foundation, and many others, are moving the needle thanks to their groundswell of support both locally in Florida but also throughout the country. That ‘alliance’ between Captains and The Everglades Foundation forms a tremendously effective partnership that is securing victories for South Florida’s water.
Take, for example, the one-two punch of a enthused Dr. Steve Davis, Chief Science Officer from The Everglades Foundation followed by an impassioned Captain Benny Blanco. Sitting on the porch at 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 much these waters mean to him and how he hopes his daughters will one day witness what the water should look like—it is just about as effective advocacy messaging as there is. That combination of science and genuine passion is nothing short of explosive. And when you throw in Captains for Clean Water’s ability to spread that message and rally people across different ideologies and backgrounds, you’ve got a well-oiled machine that will put points on the board. Now, throw a brand like Orvis into the mix…now that’s some high-octane stuff.
The objective of this film for Orvis, Captains for Clean Water, and The Everglades Foundation was simple, yes, literally. Everglades restoration and repairing the chronic water mismanagement in South Florida can be incredibly complex. You’re talking billions of dollars from the state or the feds, 20 years of CERP, dozens of individual projects, hydrology, changing weather patterns, Lake Okeechobee discharges, cyanobacteria, red tides, blue-green algae, hyper-salinity, nutrient overloading. Yet, the language of Florida’s water crises is mundane to the folks at Captains for Clean Water and the Everglades Foundation. Even some of you all probably have a solid grasp on Everglades Restoration, or at least know that there seem to be water crises every year threatening some of the greatest fisheries in the country. The average American, however, who might dabble in the outdoors but loves it and believes in protecting wild places, well they may not know about these issues.
That is who this film is for; it’s a way to simplify the complex concept of Everglades restoration, and educate and spread awareness through the immense and diverse Orvis community. Because, at a 10,000′ concept level, the solution is simple: we need to restore the natural path of water 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 pointed to three primary reasons for Orvis producing this film and getting even more involved in the fight for clean water. Can you speak to your third motivation, and just how special the waters of South Florida are to you, your family, and the history/tradition at Orvis?
Simon: There are many families who have a special connection with the Everglades, as it is one of the country’s most incredible and iconic fisheries. In our family, many, including our fathers, have special relationships 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 in a boat so that 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 is not surprising 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 first-hand about its incredible ecosystem. It was a very special place for him. Our grandfather passed away last year, and so on our last night filming “Follow the Water,” with an approaching storm creating a dramatic sunset above rolling tarpon in the middle of the park, we sprinkled some of his ashes so he could spend the rest of time in one of his favorite places on earth.
WP: Throughout this adventure, you and Hannah were able to experience some remarkably diverse fisheries, from the freshwater canals to the hyper-salinic waters plaguing Florida Bay 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 big tarpon, while standing on the bow of a boat. Hannah has caught many fish all over the world, but she hadn’t gotten the chance to cast to adult tarpon before our trip to the Everglades. Watching her experience the anticipation, excitement, and the sudden loss of self-control (and the words that spill out during that moment) when that first tarpon rolled in front of her was incredible. That is one of those moments that make you feel small in the most amazing of ways, as you are reminded you are a part of something much bigger than you. She, Benny, and I all had giant smiles on our faces the entire 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 giant native tarpon and small native bluegills in the same day, on the same boat, in the same fishery. The ecosystem created by the combination of fresh and saltwater 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 characteristic of the Everglades that we knew our grandfather cherished.
WP: Without a doubt, Orvis has one of the largest platforms in the industry—and not just the fly fishing industry, but the larger Outdoor Economy, too. So, first off, props to team Orvis for getting involved in conservation issues, a reputation going back decades. But I’m curious about your thought process as President of a large company to invest in conservation and the role you imagine Orvis, and hopefully others, will take in the future. Because, while I hate to admit it, there will be so many more battles to fight in order to protect these wild places and fisheries all over the country.
Simon: One of the incredible things about places like the Everglades is that they coalesce people – anglers, hunters, outdoor enthusiasts, and the industry as a whole. In the film, I mention that ultimately fly fishing is about the connections to and between people, places and species, and the power in those connections is passed from generation to 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’re going to need this same collective force within the fishing and hunting industries focused on climate. 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 only habitat restoration, it’s also natural climate mitigation and resilience work. Earlier this year we added a VP of conservation & sustainability to our team because we recognize we have a responsibility to be a more sustainable company with a strategy that matches our long history of commitment to our natural resources. The sport we all love relies on a finite resource. We are in trouble if people and companies in this industry are not taking (and investing in) a long-term view. To drive necessary change at scale, the industry will need to come together on climate as we have on Everglades restoration to share knowledge, take action, and make progress on the urgent and core issues of sustainability.