tv The Wonder List With Bill Weir CNN April 12, 2015 7:00pm-8:01pm PDT
breaks -- >> you're almost there. >> reporter: well, here's to making more friends as soon as humanly possible. drain the swamp. ♪ there was an american battle cry in the war on nature. drain the swamp, they cried, and make florida home of the good life. but what they didn't know is that without the everglades, there can be no good life. there can be no life.
but now they know, and there is a plan, the biggest ever, the same army that ripped it apart is desperately trying to help it heal, to guarantee the future a new kind of warrior slogs out to fix the past. but this is the part of everglades national park that gets really interesting, the part where we shift from the natural habitat of gators and panthers to that of house cats, labradoodles and a couple million people. nowhere else in the world is the border between civilization and wilderness this narrow and this stark. and this is why conservationists like to say the everglades is a test. if we pass, we might just get to keep the planet. my name's bill weir, and i'm a story de storyteller. i reported from all over the world, and i have seen so much
change. so i made a list of the most wonderful places to explore right before they change forever. this is "the wonder list." everything was lovely in florida, so it seemed. the sun was kind, the surf was fresh, the beaches white and clean and millions of americans it was valhalla. but once you got past the surf and the shore, there was trouble. then as water shows its other face, hideous, unrelenting, streaking its rage, this is the story of such water and its mastery by the determined hand of man. >> looking back now, it all seems so arrogant. looking back from inside a dome
of cypress or under a mangrove or alongside a manatee, all that mastery by the determined hand of man stuff just seems ridiculous and cruel, unthinkable that well-meaning folks would destroy a one of a kind system of life thousands of years in the making, but then they didn't even know because back then there just weren't enough guys like max stone. so you're telling me that most folks when they visit the glades for first time, they don't know what to do. >> yeah. it's true. you can tell by the way people park their cars. am i allowed to step in the water? is it safe to go into the grasses? me, the best thing is just park your car. it's a national park. and see what you can find. >> yeah, but you're strange. >> says you. yeah, says you. >> the rest of us are evolved to stay away from swampland.
>> speaking of trails, this is a gator trail right here. >> this is a graator trail? >> he's part renaissance man, part adventurer, part artist, part-time scientist. >> this is where it starts getting fun. >> all of which makes him among the best wildlife photographers this south florida, which can only come from someone with a deep love of this misunderstood place, a passion for the vast variety of creatures great and small that exist only here, not just bears and birds, oysters and orchids, gators and crocs, but even the fresh-scented weeds. lemony fresh. >> put that in your water. >> this is clearer than mom's kitchen. >> the thing is people are afraid to put their toes in
this, but there's nothing to worry about here. this is just, you know, tropical nature. this is it. the everglades. this is the way to see it, to, you know. >> right on cue, the alligator takes his leg. >> nah. >> what do you call this one? princess? >> this is where snakes like to hang out like right on top of these. ♪ >> i keep waiting for yoda to walk out. watching a barn owl enjoy his sushi lunch, you realize this is
the good stuff, the stuff that is in deep trouble because not enough clean, fresh water is getting into places like this. because, for too long, people saw the everglades like this, endless squishy wasteland full of things that simply want to hurt you. >> it's got that sawgrass, you know, it's like bathing in broken glass. and the air, it's kind of hard to breathe, the mosquitoes that are choking you. >> in his definitive history "the swamp" michael grunwald nails it as too wet to farm, too dry to sail, too unpredictable to settle. >> when you read the early settlers during the 19th century, they thought this was a hell hole. >> something had to be done and something was. >> and so in the 1920s american dreamers began draining the swamp, began selling land by the
gallon. >> the limerock under the soil had to be blasted out foot by foot, mile by mile the work went on, drilling, blasting, digging bite by bite. >> as folks began to settle, there were a couple big hurricanes in the '40s and when the greatest generation came back from the war with sand in their boots they ordered the army corps of engineers to tame these waters of destiny and build a new paradise. and so they took a 2 million acre river of grass and dug in, took a vast sheet of slow motion gin-clear water and carved it up. some say bug spray and air conditioning created florida. no, first came 2,000 miles of dams and dikes, ditches and pipes. >> we start to have this kind of alchemy of florida where you dig a big hole in the ground and you scoop out the limestone and you turn that into highways and driveways and you dump the fill on the side and you build houses
on top of it and then it rains in that big hole and suddenly you call it a lakefront subdivision. it really is a storm catchment basin, but hey, it's valencia lakes. >> a watershed built for 2 million people now supports nearly 8 million. and another 50 million tourists a year. but not enough of them realize that when it comes to the survival of south florida, they're in the same boat as mr. owl. see, after a century of mastery by the determined hand of man, half the everglades is dead and the other half is on life support. big problem because most of south florida's drinking water comes from aquifers beneath the glades. it supports all the life in florida bay and around the keys. and so the same army ordered to break it is now under orders to
fix it to the tune of $13 billion. >> i mean, it's still emperilled but we're making huge, huge steps. huge steps. so you have some momentum, you have some cheering on the sidelines of people saying, yes, yes, this is working. but you can't just stop and say, we're good. >> far from good, actually. it's really a survival war fought across millions of acres against dozens of enemies including one that slithers and can grow longer than a limo.
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in an effort to walk in mac's soggy shoe, i stalk a woodstork at sunset. not exactly the george clooney of wading birds but a beautiful sight for all that worked for decades to bring them back from the brink. it came off the endangered species list just last year. but mac knows a creature much harder to find is the snailkite. a bird of prey with a very picky appetite. they eat only apple snails, but without enough good water, the snails have largely disappeared and so have the kites, with about 400 breeding pairs left in florida, getting this shot damn near impossible. >> i was going out every morning like eight days straight, you know, dawn to dusk, waiting and waiting and waiting in a canoe
all day with this trap and camera trap and putting out snails, snails escape. by the end of the day you go look and you had no snails. >> the snails escaped. >> they're faster than they look. then finally on the last day, you know, they just came one after another, boom, boom, boom. and it was awesome. bill, it was like the best thing. and i was celebrating all by myself. you know, like yelling in the canoe. >> lack of clean water is just one threat to the glades, though. like most wild places in the age of man, another big struggle involves protecting native species like the snail kite or the wood stork from destructive exotic species like the burmese python. and where did they come from, do they think? >> a lot of them were imported in. >> bill booth is a fireman, outdoorsman and part-time python hunter. >> people want them as an exotic pet. they got to have a python. they either get tired of them or they get too big and they'll come out to the everglades and
just dump them. >> since they lay around a hundred eggs at a time, some guess there are over 100,000 of them out there, others argue much less. but there's no debate that they are carnivorous with a capital ""c"." this viral video shows a six-foot gator being swallowed whole by a piten that later. florida held an open python hunt. >> you had 1600 people who thought they wanted to come in and hunt pythons. and they get out here and they have ar-15s and in full fatigues. they had no idea what they were doing or where they were going. >> how do hunt a python? >> you just grab them. you just grab them. >> yeah. just grab 'em. like this. they only caught 78 snakes in florida's great python challenge. bill caught six with this method
but one got away. so he came in second. here python, python, python. on shore, though, his resolve is impressive. i mean, we're here in bugless january, but can you imagine doing this in skeeter season? so i was reading that the record for mosquito hunting -- >> you're right in the heart of it. >> is 65,000 mosquitoes caught in one trap in one night. >> i believe it. you can literally not breathe. you can't take a breath in without choking on mosquitoes. it's horrendous. you almost need a beekeeper suit to survive and not inhale them. i just keep seeing one in my head. i keep seeing that pattern. >> but alas, the snakes in bill's head are the only ones out here today. but it is still an amazing place
to be. >> that's an osprey on that branch over there. here he goes. come on, fly. there he goes. >> oh, i got it, yeah. and as a consolation, bill knows a place where we are guaranteed to see a monster snake up close. what? good lord. meet goldie, a 300-pound reticulated python raised in captivity and abandoned. you are beautiful. you are beautiful. look at you. the longer they live, the longer they grow. she was over 20 feet at last measure and one meal of one live 50-pound pig will tide her over for several months. as her sheer -- the bulk of her
midsection moves over my foot, it's like getting run over by a car. my goodness. >> she'll sit and wait for hours and days until the right moment when that little critter comes by and she'll lash out and grab him and have her meal. something this size, her mouth can open up to swallow a small deer. >> all right, goldie. sit, stay. >> stay. >> some of these guys are as domesticated as your grandma's poodle which is a sharp contrast to a burmese born in the wild, like this one. >> do they draw blood? >> yes. >> take one on the nose for us. >> go ahead, get it out of your system. >> a few snake bites for the tourists? >> whoa. >> just part of doing business at a roadside attraction known
as the skunk, ape research headquarters. >> the skunk apes stand about this tall. they're about 6, 6 1/2-foot tall and they look a lot like what people describe as a bigfoot. >> and bigfoot photographic proof of the skunk ape is a bit sketchy. and mere mention of him makes park biologists roll their eyes. how do you know that's not just a good old boy in a monkey suit messing with you? >> that's not even a remote possibility that someone would have come in there in the month of july in a gorilla suit, it would have been impossible. and i'm pretty savvy. >> it takes commitment, but yeah wow, the payoff. just look, they're making a killing on skunk ape hot sauce. >> nothing surprises you here in south florida. >> yeah, understatement of the month, dave. one huge surprise is just how much this marshy water means, though, not just to gators and birds, but to gator fans and
most often explored by fan power. and out in the middle it seems impossible to know where you're going or where you've been. unless this is your home. unless sawgrass is your backyard. plants and animals your mobile apps. >> you can hear the deep bellowing of the male and the lighter bellowing of the female fp and for us, that signifies that we're getting close to our rainy season. for us, we don't have to look at the weather channel. we listen to alligator. we're always taught that if you pay attention to the animals, the environment around you, they'll teach you. >> though she is miccosukee, betty osceola shares a name with chief osceola, seminole of the fierce resistant in what became america's first vietnam. neither tribe is from the glades. they were driven down here by genocidal war. and they fought together as over
1500 american soldiers died in misery chasing them. i'm fascinated to see this because reading about the seminole wars and all that i wonder how did people live out here. >> on this particular island, you actually have the everglades, if you know what's edible, you can actually -- that's how we survived out here. you have this particular island, you have the guava trees, you have custard apple trees, you have cocoa plum trees. >> wow. chiki huts. >> in my language we say chiki, that means home. >> were they open like this or did you have walls? >> no, they were open. you have places for the eating. you would have a separate one for sleeping. you would have a separate one for an eating area, storage area. >> you got the traditional riding lawn mower. >> you need one of those in the everglades. you never know when -- >> how did you get this out here? that's amazing. in the 1950s, the seminoles
signed a treaty with the u.s. but the miccosukee held out. >> we kind of came to a truce. we didn't sign a peace treaty, so technically we're still at war, but it's lawyers, i guess. >> lawyers instead of -- >> instead of bows and arrows and guns. >> the federal government would not recognize their right to this land until chief buffalo tiger went to cuba to hang out with fidel castro. >> so they kind of forced the hand of the united states government. >> very shrewd. >> to get their recognition. >> was that buffalo tiger's plan? let me go flirt with castro and it will make them grow fonder? >> because they need to do something to protect the people. i remember my mother mentioning when she was younger, you know, people would shoot guns into the indian camps and she remembers having to hide. >> through it all they lived off this soggy land, hunting, fishing, farming. >> when people talk about everglades, they only think of water. we think of the water, the animals, the air, the plant life and people. >> a system.
>> the entire system. >> yeah. and they also watched their river of grass get smaller and more toxic, runoff from farms up north changes the water for the worse. mercury shows up in fish and game at alarming levels. do you think in your lifetime you'll ever feel comfortable eating the fish and animals that come out of the everglades? >> no. >> our tribe passed the water quality standards in order to try to force the state to improve their standards, but you have too many people that influenced the decisionmakers that slowed down the process. >> and who do you think are the biggest offenders? >> from what we hear through our tribe, it's the agricultural land. they blame u.s. sugar. they blame the citrus groves. sometimes they put blame on the cattle ranching. you know, is it any one? for me, you know, it's a combined. because we have a saying, if you're going to point your finger, you got four fingers
pointing right back at you. >> right, right. >> so for us, all of us need to make an effort to reduce that pollution. >> animals don't get to vote, she tells me. and voices doubt that billion dollar restoration projects will really help the wildland and wildlife that needs it most. but she has some powerful allies down south, people who make their livings in the waters beneath the glades. next stop, florida bay to find further surprising clues on how what connects us all is water.
it is a ground floor in a fishing, shrimping and crabbing industry worth billions. another good way to gauge the health of these waters is to trade snorkel for paddle, say good-bye to a manatee. what's up, bud? how are you doing? and go look at the sky. go look for shore birds. a place known as snake bite. those are pelicans in the distance and a big flock of little plover, but to really appreciate this spot -- this is
so amazing -- you need a little history lesson and some imagination. james audubon, the guy who literally painted every bird in the book, said his most amazing moment came here in the everglades in a place like this on a night like this. so many shore birds took to the air at once it darkened the sky for several minutes. moved him to tears. but then plumage became fashion and, thanks to the demand for ladies' hats, feathers were worth their weight in gold. they killed 5 million birds a year, pink flamingos, blue herons, 90% of the shore birds in florida slaughtered for fashion. and these days you're lucky to see a flock of anything anymore. but we're lucky because mac's
mentor is the gatekeeper to sandy key, a forbidden paradise where only scientists are allowed. ♪ look at this guy. look at this osprey fish. awesome. >> it really is a magnificent spot. this is probably one of my favorite places on the planet. >> and people aren't allowed here. >> people are not allowed on this island. >> this is an honor. jerry lorenz is the head scientist for audubon, florida, and he has a certain pink obsession. the roseates spoonbill. >> they've got this stupid bill they can't defend themselves. but one thing they can fly very quickly. >> awesome. all right. let's go see them.
how they eat is why they're special. poking their flat beaks into the water feeling for their next meal. so few animals are sensitive to the health of the ecosystem. >> did you hear that? >> yeah. oh, look, yeah. >> by the time plume hunting was banned in the '30s, there were five nesting pairs left in florida bay. but after a generation's worth of work by folks like jerry, there are over 1200 pairs by the 1970s. but just as they reached the brink of recovery in the '90s, a new canal system cut through the everglades to water farms and help ship rocket engines by barge, but they also cut off nearly two-thirds of the fresh
water flowing into the bay. >> florida bay as we knew it essentially died. we had huge sea grass dieoff, huge algae blooms, mangrove dieoff and that's what got everybody's attention. >> most of the spooners were wiped out. population that went from five pairs to 1200 is now less than 70. >> here's what their eggs look like. >> do you still the argument from big farmers that, come on, you're talking about a goofy looking pink bird. we're feeding millions of people with our products. let it go. >> the one thing i can say back to them is so are we. look, it's a funny pink bird, but that spoonbill is telling me whether this fishery will be healthy or not. and this fishery being healthy is what pays the bills in south florida. i like to eat as much as the next guy. we need those farms. if we didn't have the farms it would be urban development which
would kill everglades park. the question is how do you balance that? i need two hands to hold the pole and i need mac to tell me what's in it. >> so it's a camera on a pole. >> a gopro. >> but now after decades of frustration, water managers call jerry for his advice before they open floodgates in ways that would wipe out his beloved birds. >> i like to say well we quit digging a hole anyway. we've been digging a hole for the last hundred years and it's getting worse and worse and worse. this bay and the everglades are unbelievably resilient if unbelievably delicate. we can screw them up, but if we can put things back right, they'll heal themselves. >> okay. it looks like there's one chick. it's alive. >> that's a good thing. >> yeah. it's a relief.
time to go see a different kind of wildlife. found at the end of one of the coolest american highways. it is the road into the technicolor sunset. u.s. 1 to key west. and if you hit mallory square at sunset, you'll find a parade of cruisers and bikers, tourists and dropouts, pirates and professionals all trying to forget the real world for a few hours or forever. and duvall street is even more lively on new year's eve, much to the delight of my kid at the other end of the video call. >> five, four, three, two, one. [ cheers ] ♪
>> it may not be the most obvious place to reflect on time and tide and existential dread, but while the folks lined up for a southern-most selfie, i don't want to think about it on vacation, truth is key west is living on borrowed time. because sea levels have risen nine inches in the past century. predictions are it will climb twice as much by the middle of this century and the driest ground already taken by one famous name. ernest hemingway used to joke that he bought a place under the key west lighthouse so he could find his way home from the bar at night. which is still a great selling point in the conch republic. but a better one might be that this is high ground. at a 17 whopping feet above sea level this is the veritable mountaintop of the florida keys. like the characters in one of his novels, papa's old house right there will be one of the
last to slip beneath the brine. it's so beautiful. i mean, this is the iconic key west architecture, right? >> it is a very iconic building. we're a national historic landmark. >> dave gonzalez grew up next door to earnest and his wife second pauline had the pool put in when he was off covering the spanish war because when he came back he was a bit miffed because 'twas his boxing site. but she thought coming back from church and seeing him beating his buddies bloody was not the right setting for an afternoon at home. >> there are over 400 descend t descendants of papa's beloved six-toed cats and his writer's studio, just like he left it. that's amazing. it's like seeing michelangelo's brush or ted williams' bat. >> we kind of call this the energy center because this is
where it all happened. >> yeah. in "old man and the sea" papa wrote of the ocean's split personality, the feminine and the masculine. la mar and el mar. la mar can give you crystalline heaven, blue skies and fish that won't stop biting. but el mar? >> el mar can sink your boat. >> or flood your house. >> or flood your house. we had a problem with it being a tropical island, the el mar comes with that double-edged sword. a matter of time. >> what are the hopes and fears for a place that's this low lying having been through a storm like wilma? >> well, in wilma we saw the waters rise 3 to 6 feet. we know with global warming that eventually that water will come as the ice caps melt. this island will eventually tend to become smaller, 16 feet above sea level, we will be that last peak that when it does happen. >> you're going to stay open
till the bitter end. >> they're going to pull the boats up out front and i'm still going to conduct this tour like i'm doing for you today. >> with a writer's love of grim irony, hemingway might appreciate that one of the most worry-free corners of america holds some of the most vulnerable neighborhoods in america. you're like a little starter deer. how you doing? how you doing? once endangered by hunters and the key deer habitat is now shrinking as rising saltwater kills the big pines of big pin key. and those roseate spoonbills back on sandy key, an early warning system. >> november, december, the last three years they haven't begun nesting until well into january, even aseven as late as february. that's because sea level rise. we've seen four of sea level rise in the last 15 years.
>> but what happens when the habitat begins to shrink for florida's two-legged creatures? >> we're really living in a place that is basically doomed by the end of this century rncht dr. harold juanless runs the geology department at the university of miami is a world renowned expert on sea level rise. >> present u.s. government projections are for 4.1 to 6 feet by the end of the century. the geologists if we had to give a number, it would probably be at 15 to 20 feet by the end of this century. >> three times the government estimation. >> yeah. and that's just because we feel that we can see by looking at the past how rapidly a destabilized ice section can disintegrate. >> when you tell folks at miami dade, i know you're an adviser, when you tell the local politicians, the state politicians we're doomed, what do they say? what's the typical answer? >> i've had a few people be very
upset. shouldn't say that. well, you can look around miami beach and miami right now. we have 230 condominium projects under way right now. those are going to be bought by people that have had a hard life working up north somewhere, pittsburgh or iowa or wherever, and insurance companies are going to say we can't afford to insure you any more, at which point you can't sell your house, which is your retirement and so you're just like an okie in the dust bowl. you might see some of your political leaders denying climate change or avoiding it, but insurance companies understand it very well. >> he's among the many scientists who believe it is too late to stop human beings from turning up the global thermostat. now it's just a matter of containing the damage. and one of the best ideas for protecting as much life as possible is back in the swamp,
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animals like this rests in the hands of political animals like these, but back in 2000 when bush v. gore was roiling and the florida recount was raging, the one thing that brought republicans and democrats together was saving the everglades. jeb bush came to cheer as bill clinton signed the bill that would spend $8 billion on history's biggest wildlife restoration, but that was the easy part. >> this is like trying to convert a twin engine cessna into a 747 in flight. >> yeah, right. yeah. >> it would be one thing if you asked everybody, hey, everybody in south florida, we need you to leave for a couple years while we get this water thing worked out, then you can come back. it's impossible. shannon is from the department of the interior. tom from the south florida water management district. >> these areas are in pretty good shape. but what they're lacking now is the flow of water. >> they're the goldilocks in charge down here, obsessed with getting this place that is
always too wet or too dry just right huge challenge because in wet season the corps is forced to dump massive amounts of water into the most delicate environments, in dry season precious water is diverted to farms and cities when the glades go thirsty. >> until we fix the system that's the way the system is designed to work. >> burning sugar. >> processing sugar. that's what you were seeing. the smoke to the right i'm pretty sure that's a field that's burning right now. >> yes, it is. >> sugarca in, e, all great for the economy. the fertilizers used to grow them, horrible for the everglades. >> a billion dollar program. >> just to get the fertilizer phosphorus out of the water. >> so it's at the standard we need to be able to get into the glades for restoration. >> if you were going to point to a villain, it's less big sugar
than big us south florida used to have this really awesome water management system. it was called the everglades. recharged aquifers, provided really good flood protection, provided incredible biodiversity, but it didn't support 7 million human beings. so we built a new water management system. >> a couple decades after realizing what a massive mistake that was, we have the first signs of actual progress. >> as bridges go, it's mott the most impressive bridge we've ever built in america, but as the environment goes, i would argue it's the most important. >> the tamiami highway which long blocked water flow south is being raised a mile at a time. the kissimmee river once straightened for industry is back to a natural flow and the wildlife is bounding back. but the american urge to tame nature and expand still a powerful thing. >> we recognize that the
ecosystem is important but we still want ours. we want to put more straws into the ground, sprawl farther into the everglades. >> just one more. then we got to stop. >> it's 18,000 calls a year the animal control in florida about the alligators in in our backyards. it doesn't occur to us that we're in the alligator's backyard. >> the man in charge of looking out for both these days is governor rick scott. but tough to find fans in the save the everglades camp. he's worried that a deal to buy old sugar fields to buy much needed reservoirs. they're worried about claims from inside florida's department of environmental protection that the words "climb change" and "global warning" were banned from state reports. the governor denies such a policy exists but also denies any link between human activity and climate which puts him at
stark odds with the secretary of the interior. >> if you saw what i saw and went out on these landscapes, you could not deny that climate change is going on. i see it everywhere i go. >> sally jewel's career began digging oil wells with mobil. and she caught flak from environmentalists for supporting that controversial drilling for gas known as fracking. >> it's been used as a dirty word. and it can be done wrong and impactful and can be done right and very important. >> you can say that about a lot of things, but new york did this five-year study and decided no, too risky for us. so does that mean you'd be comfortable with fracking on the edge of the everglades? >> there are places that are too special to develop. don't get me wrong. >> as for the threat of sea level rise, she says the best way to fight salt water is with fresh water and a healthy glades. >> we do know that natural ecosystems like the everglades, mangrove swamps, natural
wetlands, are buffers to upland communities. doesn't mean all the communities here, if you see a foot, two foot, three feet of sea level rise will be able to be saved or will be sensible to be saved, but it does mean that there's a lot more florida will be here if we pay attention to this stuff than we don't. >> if you look at all the water problems around the world, whether the middle east or california or india/pakistan, if anybody has the means to figure it out, it should be the state of florida. >> should be our country. >> should be america. >> yes. that's exactly right. you know, we have the infrastructure, we have the educated masses, we have the science behind it. this is a florida thing. and you know, if we can fix this watershed, we can restore it, we can bring it back to what it once was, this will be an icon for all the restoration projects all around the world. we have the means to do it. >> get on it, florida. >> get on it. >> we're watching. >> the whole world is watching,
yeah. >> watching and hoping. as it turns out, these are waters of destiny indeed. mary magdalene. the woman tradition calls a sinner but who becomes the most devoted follower of jesus. >> i see mary magdalene as one of the most compelling figures in the entire gospel. >> a witness to the crucifixion and the resurrection, she is one of the most misunderstood women in the bible. >> she was the first christian. >> known as a penitent prostitute, was she, in fact, the wife of jesus? >> there's an air of scandal about this. >> the bible tells us little about mary. is it possible that everything we've assumed about her