HALIFAX, NOVA SCOTIA — One of the challenges faced by conservationists is that the public generally doesn't care much about what it doesn't know much about. The Internet has been an effective tool in raising awareness about various ecological issues, and a good example is The Interactive Green Swamp.
The Interactive Green Swamp is an information and public relations exercise by the Southwest Florida Water Management District, created to acquaint visitors with a region that provides much of the state's water supply and includes ecosystems that range from swamp to hardwood forest. It's also a very nicely designed website that effectively uses a variety of Flash applets to make the visit interesting even for those who think that Florida swampland is for can't-miss real estate deals.
The site doesn't waste time with opening flourishes and takes the visitor directly to what may be the most relaxing introduction page on the Web, thanks to a seamless sound loop of bird and insect calls native to the territory. In fact, you might want to bookmark this page for those times when things at the office get a bit too stressful, and you need a few minutes of soothing white noise.
If you'd rather not have the soundtrack, or if the insect chirping starts to sound like your hard drive is developing a vibration, a speaker icon allows the visitor to choose bird calls only on the Intro page, or complete silence.
The look of the site is as easy on the eyes as the soundtrack is on the ears. Earth tones all around and a cycle of still images treated with a Ken Burns-zoom technique. (All right, so he didn't invent it. But you knew what I was describing, yes?) The photographs themselves are surprisingly attractive, considering the images most of us conjure up when we hear the word "swamp."
The layout of the site remains the same for each section, with the only change being the nature of the presentation in the image frame. An overview of the area's ecological and hydrological significance features more zoom stills. A history section (6000 B.C. to the present) makes use of a scrolling timeline. The natural history section features a "three-dimensional" virtual diorama, and management and recreation pages both seed stills with hotlinks to more detailed information.
Text remains on "faux paper" at the bottom, which itself is occasionally accented with such bits of decorative animation as a ladybug crawling across the page. For geographic orientation, an interactive map uses visitor-controlled layers to display the various designations of land in the area. Finally, for educators who would like a printer-friendly version of the content, a text-only link is available at the very bottom of the page.
While swamps may not rank high on the great outdoors glamour list, they play important roles - ecologically and, in cases like this one, even historically. The Interactive Green Swamp draws surfers in with the visual appeal of both the site and the subject matter, then painlessly increases public awareness during the visit.
The Interactive Green Swamp can be found at http://www.swfwmd.state.fl.us/greenswmp.