Star gazing in one of the most light-polluted areas on Earth sounds impossible – but one filmmaker has found the perfect spot to watch the Milky Way unfold above him.
For filmmaker Harun Mehmedinovic, Florida’s Dry Tortugas National Park was the perfect place to see the stars dance in front of his very eyes.
“Dry Tortugas has the best display of stars on the East Coast,” Mehmedinovic enthused. “The East Coast is the most light-polluted place on Earth, if we’re talking about large areas. There are only four or five spots where you can see the Milky Way with your own eyes, and Dry Tortugas is one of them.”
Mehmedinovic is part of a large-scale project called SkyGlow, which aims to explore exotic dark sky locations and raise awareness about the encroachment of light pollution. Inspired by Dry Tortugas’s isolated charm, he spent three days and nights in the park filming the stars, and the result is a stunning time-lapse video that showcases the revolving beauty above and around him.
Not many tourists make it to this remote national park, however. It sits 68 miles west of the nearest city, Key West, and getting there takes two hours by ferry. The park, which spans a hundred square miles, is mostly open water and contains seven small islands, which means that only 1% of the park is situated on dry land. But its isolation is a boon to those who do come, as it virtually guarantees jaw-dropping views of the celestial dance unfolding in the sky – such as the moment at 1:37, when the sun fully sets and the stars begin to glimmer.
The park’s isolation stems from a long history, dating back to 1846 – and nowhere is that more evident than 19th-centuryFort Jefferson (seen at 00:30). Intended to fortify the harbour around Dry Tortugas, this is where passing ships came to resupply or to escape the storms battering Florida’s coasts. The fort’s strategic location also ensured that the United States could watch over the traffic traversing the length of the Gulf Coast, deterring enemy ships that might intend to wrest control of the area. However, the imposing fort, one of the biggest masonry structures in the Americas, was never finished or fully armed.
During the US Civil War years (1861 – 1865), the fort was converted into a prison. At its peak, it held 2,500 prisoners, mainly on the charge of deserting Union troops. By 1874, the US Army had abandoned the fort, and by 1888, its condition had largely deteriorated due to hurricanes and a harsh tropical climate. After several decades of neglect, the fort was finally declared a National Monument in 1935, and was later redesignated as Dry Tortugas National Park in 1992, recognized as a heritage site in need of restoration.
Today, Dry Tortugas National Park is focused on preserving the historical fort for future generations and protecting the marine ecosystems around the area. Despite the imposing nature of Fort Jefferson, the park remains secluded and isolated, offering an exceptional view of the night skies that glimmer overhead.
“There’s no way to get away anymore,” Mehmedinovic said, “and then you go to Dry Tortugas, and you find yourself in this very quiet and peaceful place. It’s the most intimate national park I’ve ever been to.”