Dry Tortugas depicts a coral island at the end of the Florida Keys in the Gulf of Mexico. This utterly unique and magnificent ecosystem is now the Dry Tortugas National Park, part of the Everglades & Dry Tortugas Biosphere Reserve, established by UNESCO in 1976. 68 miles west of Key West, this westernmost and most isolated of the Florida Keys faces an uncertain future due to rising oceans.
“Visiting the Dry Tortugas is a Surrealist dream- tiny bleached islands floating in a blue crystal, ever-singing the chorus of exotic birds. One of our most remote and newest national parks is so oddly beautiful because its history is as bizarre as its flora and fauna.
Famously discovered by Ponce de Leon, by virtue of currents and a natural deepwater harbor it was visited by so much ship traffic that by the 1800s the US decided to build one of the world’s largest forts, dragging out by hundreds of ships 16 million bricks and countless more material (it remains the largest brick masonry structure in the Western Hemisphere), with unfathomable human effort, in large part by the labor of hundreds of prisoners and slaves. It became a military prison in the Civil War and its most famous prisoner was Dr Samuel Mudd, charged with conspiracy in the assassination of Lincoln. Yet it never saw battle, and what began in 1847 was abandoned soon after the war. In short, the whole enterprise was outdated before it was even complete.
Today the massive Fort Jefferson rises like a lost empire in the sea, overtaken by thousands of sea birds. A birding and coral reef paradise, the Dry Tortugas is the only North American nesting location for the Magnificent Frigate-bird, Masked Booby and Brown Noddy, and the only regular nesting site of the Sooty Tern, whose forlorn and raucous soundtrack one never stops hearing, even at night, though those islands are off limits to visit. In delicate graphite pencil, Dry Tortugas depicts a pair of these beautiful brown noddies among buttonwood trees and prickly pear cactus, which are common on the island. Around 4500 of these beautiful colonial tropical seabirds breed within the Dry Tortugas on Bush Key, finding safety in numbers. From the tern family, this chocolate-brown seabird has a very distinctive white and grey forehead. Only laying a single egg once a year, the Brown Noddy constructs elaborate nests in bay cedar or cactus, from vegetation and twigs, and sometimes, shells and bits of coral line their nests. Courtship involves bowing and nodding movements leading to name of "Noddy".
This delicate wondrous environment will very likely not survive our warming planet, and drop into the ocean once more.”
Miami International Airport Permanent Collection