By Jacki Levine

Featured image above: A colorful sunset provides a dramatic backdrop to silhouettes of mangroves in the Ten Thousand Islands, the beginnings of the Everglades. Photo by Alex Freeze.

It is said when Ponce de Leon’s expedition made landfall on our east coast in April 1513, he named the region “La Florida,” after both the lush, flowering vegetation greeting him onshore, and “Pascua Florida,” the Easter season he was celebrating.

But perhaps, had the Spanish explorer looked more closely, he might have come up with another name, one inspired by what we know our state to be: “Terra de Agua.” Land of Water.
Lapped on one side by the Atlantic Ocean, the other by the Gulf of Mexico, ours is the only state afloat in both seas—a peninsula of almost 2,280 miles of tidal shorelines, 11,000 miles of rivers, 700 freshwater springs, 33 of first magnitude, and some 7,700 lakes. As Floridians, most of us live within 60 miles of the ocean or the gulf.

Water is so omnipresent, we do more than consciously think of it — we breathe it, live it, dream it—a source, at once, of joy and of unease, as the seas that cradle our state continue to rise. Just as water has throughout our history, it will play the lead role in our future.

Our Florida story is written in water.

In the pages that follow, we explore how our lives as Floridians are shaped by this most essential relationship:

Through archaeological clues, we trace how every transformation, from rising seas to flooding banks, has influenced the evolution of our culture, from where we’ve settled to how we’ve buried our dead;

How the fortunes of coastal communities — and the livelihoods of those who live there — rise and fall with the preservation of their fragile waterways;

How a shared sea bridges deep political differences with an island neighbor, connecting us through mutual concern for marine life;

How water once illustrated and furthered our great divide, separating us one from another through segregated beaches and swimming pools;

How our briney seas and luminous springs lured Victorian-era tourists with promises of healing, and still entice the freedom-loving among us;

How our rivers, estuaries, ocean, inspire wellsprings of creativity, and spark uniquely Floridian artistry;

And finally, how our ability to bend and build to the sea level’s rise will determine how the next chapter unfolds in Florida’s eternal story of water, and us.

Jacki Levine, FORUM Magazine Editor.

Jacki Levine, FORUM Magazine Editor.

FORUM Magazine Spring 2021, Written in Water

This article originally appeared in the Spril 2021 Issue of FORUM Magazine. Visit our collection at the USFSP Digital Archive by clicking here.