The Forgotten Coast, in rural northwest Florida, is so named for its lack of theme parks, high-rise hotels, crowds, and the development seen in other parts of the Sunshine State. Featuring some of the last and most authentic remaining vestiges of Old Florida, the area is distinguished by its lush pine forests, sugar-white beaches, and the emerald-tinted Gulf waters that have traditionally sustained life here in this overlooked area of the state.
The Forgotten Coast is further characterized by its small, working-class communities that have proven vulnerable in today’s climate crisis. Apalachicola, in Franklin County, features a strong maritime heritage and is still home to a commercial fishing community. Known nationally for its Apalachicola Bay oysters, which the New York Times once placed among the finest in the world, in recent years the oyster fishery here has collapsed. This has contributed to a cultural clash between traditional oystermen and women who find themselves out of work and a new generation of entrepreneurs who believe they can bring back their bay’s famous oysters through aquaculture. Yet, both are impeded by a lack of freshwater flowing into the bay, a result of naturally occurring droughts, irregular weather patterns, and water-intensive agriculture upstream in Georgia. Like other Forgotten Coast towns, Apalachicola has become increasingly dependent upon tourism. This makes these coastal communities even more vulnerable to climate change, for when catastrophic storms strike the resulting destruction is such that tourists may stay away for weeks, months, years at a time. In 2018, Hurricane Michael obliterated the city marina in Port St. Joe, for example, which housed businesses and fleets catering to visitors. And Mexico Beach, where the hurricane made landfall, saw its vacation rentals and restaurants blown away. More than two years later, the tiny community is still in the process of rebuilding.
These photos reveal a scenic yet largely unknown coastal region that’s both dependent upon the sea for its identity and survival, and yet simultaneously threatened by it, as disasters such as Hurricane Michael remind us.
All images © John Gifford