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One Man’s Fight to Protect and Preserve

Luca Martinez works remotely.  

He can be found knee deep or completely submersed under water in the Everglades. Or you might see him sleeping in a hammock between two trees in the Everglades, a canopy of trees above him, the water under him. And an alligator or two. Or just a few weeks ago he was hanging from a helicopter 1,000 feet in the air, filming the Everglades. 

Mr. Martinez, 19, is a nature and wildlife photographer who grew up in South Florida and has a passion for preserving the Everglades, the subtropical wetland that once covered 2,000 square miles but has been reduced by more than half.  

He shared his work with the Loomis Chaffee community at an Earth Month convocation on Monday, April 29, in the Olcott Center. Head of School Sheila Culbert, who introduced Mr. Martinez at the covocation, also has a passion for the natural world and nature photography. An exhibit, “The Wonders of the Natural World,” featuring Sheila’s photography, which concentrates on the environment of the Connecticut River; and Mr. Martinez’s Everglades work, lines two walls in the dining hall. 

Mr. Martinez became interested in nature when he was a kid in his grandfather's backyard and took his first camera into the Everglades at the age of 13. Now, with his work having gone viral with more than 100 million views on Instagram and TikTok, he is a freshman at Florida Atlantic University still working to raise awareness about the importance of conservation.  

Peace and calmness is how he describes the feeling of being in the Everglades. 

“Whether you are knee-deep or completely submerged in water, there is a unique feeling you get nowhere else,” he said.  

At that moment, he said, you are not in control, “and you can step back and say, ‘Perhaps this world I am in right now isn’t made just for me.’ ... That is what these places offer. You’re forced to be present because the closer attention you pay to seemingly simple things, the more complex they become.” 

The Everglades is home to 360 species of birds, 300 species of fish, 17 species of amphibians, 40 species of mammals, and 50 species of reptiles. It also supplies drinking water to about a third of Florida’s population.  

“We don’t often connect the Everglades with something beautiful,” Mr. Martinez said. “When was the last time you heard the Everglades being brought up when someone was talking about this nation’s most beautiful places?” 

We are taught that the Everglades is a dangerous and dirty place and that a good swamp is a drained swamp, Mr. Martinez said, but we’re not taught to do what he was about to show — a video of him underwater with alligators and an abundance of colorful plant life and clear water. 

“Perhaps we don't speak of it because it is a very different wilderness,” Mr. Martinez said, “in that the most beautiful views are not just off the road. You have to engage with this place, and when you do, it engages with you.” Another video showed the skies above the Everglades, and from the silence came a burst of sound as, Mr. Martinez explained, “tens of thousands of tree swallows blanket the skies.”  

“Despite all we have done, the damning, the draining, the dredging, this place is still alive,” Mr. Martinez said. “America’s Everglades are alive.”  

Just as the written word cannot do justice to his photos and videos, it also cannot truly convey the passion in his voice. One observer of his presentation likened Mr. Martinez’s commentary to spoken word at times.   

“As Americans, as people who have incredible backyards, it should be our moral obligation to help protect and preserve our wild places as best we can,” Mr. Martinez said.  

But, he said, “we’re turning it into this.” He displayed an image with an aerial view of the Everglades on one side and cookie-cutter housing developments on the other side. 

After his presentation, Mr. Martinez answered questions from students before attending several classes, including environmental science and photography.  

In answer to one student’s question, Mr. Martinez said he hopes his work does a few things. 

“I hope what comes out of this is a realization that young people really do have a platform and a voice to create real change,” he said. “And, if nothing else, a sense of kindness not only to people around us but everything around us.” 

He has realized this his camera is a tool for something greater. “How can I help save this place?” he asked himself. “The biggest threat to the Everglades is that so many people living in South Florida were not connected to it. It is the same for a lot of ecosystems around the world. The biggest threat is our detachment. The way to save these places is getting out there, the connection. Because you will fall in love with it. If you love something, you will protect it. It’s only when you love something that you will fight for it.” 

Sheila Culbert and Luca Martinez in front of their photo exhibit

Head of School Sheila Culbert and Luca Martinez both share a passion for the natural world and nature photography.  Sheila’s photography concentrates on the environment of the Connecticut River; Mr. Martinez’s on the Everglades in Florida. Their work lines two walls in the dining hall. 





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