There has never been a more important time for residents of our Gulf coast region to understand the importance of the resource that brought us to the area and that fuels both our passion and our economy. This March, we’ll have the opportunity to learn about the history of our coast, the forces that shaped it and the threats that have transformed it from Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jack Davis.
Jack Davis’s new novel, “The Gulf, The Making of An American Sea” is the grand, sweeping history of the whole Gulf of Mexico that can give insight into the need to protect the natural bounty we are surrounded by. Davis, a history professor at the University of Florida, won the Pulitzer Prize for history in 2018 and will be on hand at The Seafood Shack on Thursday, March 14 at 6 p.m. for a Fishing for Our Future fundraising event for the Florida Maritime Museum in Cortez.
The dinner and author talk are a tremendous opportunity to learn from and ask questions of one of the most engaging authors I’ve read in many years. As I mentioned in a book review in a prior column, I have been captivated with the beauty and the fish that surround us and reading “Gulf” has expanded my vision of the coastal resources we are blessed with and given me the insight to see it with new eyes. For me reading “The Gulf” shined a brighter light on what we have, what we’ve lost and the importance of protecting it.
From the geological beginnings to the present day, we learn the history of the nearly 8 million acres and the native Americans that first inhabited it, followed by the Spanish explorers, the French, British and Cubans. The descriptions of the vast schools of fish and flocks of birds that would blacken the sky hint at the incredible diversity and density of marine life and wildlife that once inhabited the Gulf and its estuaries.
Davis recounts how the tarpon, not warm weather and white sand beaches, brought the first tourists to Florida. The great silver fish was the impetus that introduced wealthy adventurers, artists and, indirectly, a wave of tourists to the Gulf coast. The influx of humans into the Gulf region in the 1800s began a period of intense exploitation that continues to this day.
Davis recounts records of armed passenger tourists on the Ocklawaha River that shot birds and wildlife indiscriminately for sport. At the same time, the plume trade was responsible for the killing of huge numbers of birds Gulf-wide. During this same period, the harvesting of eggs from seabird nests exacerbated the decline of the once-vast flocks of birds. Davis paints a picture with words that makes it hard to overstate the effects of this dark period. Fortunately, the resulting outcry from conservationists and birders resulted in the creation of 51 bird sanctuaries and the founding of the National Audubon Society. Passage Key at the mouth of Tampa Bay is one of those sanctuaries.
As the history of the Gulf unfolded, the exploitation moved from birds to oil and then chemicals that devastated the coastal estuaries of Louisiana and Mississippi. Davis recounts the effects of pulp mills, oil spills and hurricanes before the rush of development that resulted in massive dredge and fill operations. “The Gulf” serves as a cautionary tale of the importance of protecting, preserving and enhancing the place we call home. The opportunity to meet Davis in person is one not to be missed.
For sponsorship and ticket information, visit The Florida Maritime Museum online. Ticket prices start at $45 and all proceeds up to $34,000 will be matched and benefit The Florida Maritime Museum.
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