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Thread: Gatorland Photographer Program

  1. #1
    Mike Godwin
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    Default Gatorland Photographer Program

    Greetings Friends and Photographers,

    As most of you are now aware, Gatorland has discontinued it's photographer program and I am no longer with the company. What you may not be aware of are the real reasons behind this closure and my termination from the family business.

    Contrary to public comments and emails from Gatorland's CEO and management, the Gatorland Birding and Photography program was a great success and last year the program made a very healthy profit for the company... so well in fact that I had planned to open the Rookery in 2011 for extended hours 7 days a week. So why the misinformation and cover-up from Gatorland?

    It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out the real reason, Gatorland is building a zipline venue through the Breeding Marsh. Despite my concerns over the impact to the native wildlife that inhabit the Breeding Marsh, Gatorland's management and Board of Directors approved plans to route the zipline directly through the middle of the Rookery and directly over the nesting Wood Stork colony. The message of conservation and wildlife appreciation that I had touted for the past several years suddenly became an inconvenience... as did myself and the birds.

    Through the efforts of the Audubon Society, USFW and FWC the route was changed from the middle of the Rookery to the south end, however this delayed Gatorland's construction plans and now they will be doing the zipline construction during the 2011 nesting season. Any impact upon the birds would be easily identified and probably reported by the photographers who visit, so why encourage photographers at all?

    I would like to thank all of you who participated in Gatorland's Birding and Photography program, it was my greatest pleasure to host you all and watch the fabulous show of nature put on daily within the Rookery. I apologize for my families lack of concern over the impact of running an entertainment venue through a Bird Rookery, unfortunately the lure of increased revenues from a zipline outweighed any conservation agenda or concern over the wildlife in the area. It's such a shame...

    Mike Godwin
    President - Orange Audubon Society

  2. #2
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    Default Gatorland Photography Program

    Mike: thank you for the update but, more importantly, thank you for all that you have done in promoting the birds and photography. Two years ago was the first time I had an opportunity to do any photography at the park. You befriended me within minutes and took your time to give me a brief tour around the rookery area. Subsequent visits found you again providing your knowledge and friendship not just to myself but to other photographers. You are being sorely missed.

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    Default Gatorland Photography Program

    Thanks for letting us know Mike. I bought a pass and went to one of Robert's classes
    and it was fabulous.

    I wrote Gatorland customer service an email last week just inquiring if I could use my pass, which
    is still theoretically in effect, just to enter the park and they never wrote me back.

    I hope the Audubon has some success in keeping things intact, it was a really
    great place.

    Garry Gibson

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    Mike,

    Your hospitality is some thing we are going to miss this season along with the photo opportunities. Good luck my friend.

    -Sid

  5. #5
    Co-Founder James Shadle's Avatar
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    Default

    It's such a shame...
    Mike, I could not agree more!

    Thanks for your efforts and the update.

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    Default

    Sad...

    Guys does this mean that I should not waste my time and go to Gatorland for a half of day in two weeks?


    Thanks,

    Mikko

  7. #7
    Mike Godwin
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    Thank you all for the comments, it was again my greatest pleasure hosting you all at the park. The real catch 22 here is that the Rookery is still a great place to photograph, and the wildlife still needs protection, especially since I am not there. But how can one support that wildlife without monetarily supporting the company and its policies?

    Unfortunately, I have found no answer to that question, other than to make sure everyone knows the real truth behind the rhetoric coming from Gatorland. It troubles me to hear of the lack of responses many of you have experienced to your inquiries, but to be honest, it does not surprise me in the least.

  8. #8
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    Mike

    I really enjoyed my time spent with you photographing at Gatorland. Thank You so much for your hospitality.
    It's a shame that a business would show such little regard for the birds that have made their home in the rookery.
    Money must mean everything to them. As for me and my fellow photographers, our money will be spent elsewhere.

    Best Wishes, Mike
    Ps: If you know anybody that wants to Zipline. Send them to Forever Florida. They respect wildlife!

    Layton E Parham

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    Default Folks with existing photo passes

    I emailed customer service at Gatorland to ask if my photo pass would still
    give me admission. I got the following letter from them. Which is good news.

    Hi Gary,
    Yes you can still use the photo pass to come into our park. Sorry for the delay in response.

    Have a great day
    Alexis Lutz
    Admission Manager

  10. #10
    Roman Kurywczak
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    Hey Mike,
    I had the pleasure of visiting for the first time myself last year. It is unfortunate that management took this approach as I was planning on perhaps bringing clients there. I often wonder why people can't see the benefits that promoting a responsible photography location which would indeed make them $$$......as you clearly saw. When the higher ups wonder why the zipline doesn't bring them the revenue.....andr it scares the birds away.......maybe then they will realize that their ignorance will cost them more in the long run....although it may be too late. Best of luck to you and thanks for the updates!

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    Mike, i most appreciate your honesty, and stand here. Perhaps you can continue to turn up the heat publically, as the birds and wildlife should come first; not a careless, stupid, revenue generating zipline, that endangers the local fauna!
    I for one will not spend a dollar and support this careless, and thoughtless behavior; the gatorland mangement is displaying!!
    Perhaps a local protest, and display too the public,of course with the proper permitting process! As i can guarantee i'd drive up and participate!
    Don Hamilton Jr.













































    i also be one of the first to drive up and protest this publically, if the proper permits etc are executed!
    Finally your care for the wildlife, and hospitality will be missed!!!
    Last edited by Don Hamilton Jr.; 03-07-2011 at 09:32 AM.

  12. #12
    Life Time Member Doug Brown's Avatar
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    What a shame Mike! I had a great time at Gatorland last year and enjoyed meeting you. Appreciate your honesty about the real reason why the photographer pass was discontinued. Too bad the ownership is so driven by profit.
    Upcoming Workshops: Bosque del Apache 2019, Ecuador 2020 (details coming soon)
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    Default Miss the early morning hours.

    Hello Mike,
    I was a regular visitor last year, usually in the early morning. I have not been back since I heard the news about the program being discontinued and the construction of the zipline. I have called and asked about my pass but got the run around and gave up. I throughly enjoyed my time spent there last year. There are not many places where you can really get up close to nesting birds without some organization shooing you away. I have really missed going this year and am so sorry that you and your family are at odds (of course I would vote on the side of the rookery).

    Having said all of this, I am, however going to go tomorrow with a friend, who having seen my photos is very excited. I hope I am not disappointed, however the addmission time at 9 am really stinks.

    Best of luck to you and if an organized protest takes place I hope you will post to let us those of us who live close know about it.

    AnnShiller

    PS Always loved your photos and where do you go now?

  14. #14
    George Wilson
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    Default Gatorland

    Mike,

    I have been at Gatorland to shoot many times this year, as I have in the past. Many times you and I met on the boardwalk. One morning you took me over to an "off limits" area to photograph Wood Storks landing in an old dead tree. It was this type of interaction with guests that made Gatorland an enjoyable place to be. I was bothered when I saw the zip line construction underway and even more bothered to learn that you were no longer there. There seems to be something missing among the staff now too. The ladies at the entrance still smile and recognize when I show up, but the park staff doesn't greet you on the boardwalk anymore, I exit through the gift shop and they are huddled in a corner talking to each other, while people stand and wait at the registers. I could go on, but that is not what I am here to talk about.

    This year I have noted a decline in the amount of nests and breeding pairs in the park. I have also noted for the first time in my experience a number of tri colored heron chicks walking on the boardwalk and unable to return to nests- gatorland staff have picked them up and placed them back in the trees. Hopefully they were able to return to the nests. I say this because this was happening in the South end of the breeding marsh under the zip line cable. The cable makes a loud distinctive vibrating sound when someone is on it and then the occasional screaming tourist adds to the effect. I hope that adult birds are not abandoning chicks in the nests because of this.

    There was a larger than usual number of tri colored herons this year. I have seen fewer cattle egrets and less snowy egrets. I saw only one limpkin back in Feb. The ospreys are not around the breeding marsh that I have seen, nor have I seen the roseatte spoonbills, black crowned night herons, Ibis, little blue herons to name a few.

    I believe that this new money making making vanture that gatorland has embarked on is affecting the wildlife, the very wildlife they are claiming to protect.

    Best of Luck. I will miss your company and conversation.

    George Wilson

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