Bounty and threat in a place called Bone Valley

Phosphate mining has long meant jobs — and worries — in Central Florida. Ambivalence is growing as a mining company seeks to significantly expand its reach, with some fearing the land and water will “never be the same.”

Its name suggests danger or desolation, and the 1.3-million-acre stretch of Central Florida known as Bone Valley is indeed a land raked by excavators, tainted by waste and rife with tensions.

Since the late 1800s, most of the phosphate mined in the United States — for use in producing fertilizer — has been extracted here. The industry has long provided a bounty of jobs but also has had a profound impact on the landscape, especially on the waterway that wends through the region and sustains citrus farms, cattle ranches and small towns. Its name is equally evocative: Peace River.

With the Mosaic Co. now pushing to greatly expand its local mining operation, concerns about contamination and fish kills are rising. For many of the people who live in Bone Valley and depend on the Peace River, the future seems increasingly tenuous.

About this story

Photos by Dane Rhys. Videos by Max Posner. Photo editing by Olivier Laurent. Project editing by Susan Levine. Copy editing by Susan Doyle. Design and development by Gabriel Florit.

Dane Rhys is an Australian photojournalist, now based in the United States, with a background in mining. He documents industrial workers and their communities. On Instagram @dane.rhys
Max Posner is a photographer and multimedia producer based on the East Coast. His work explores the intersections of humans with the natural world. On Instagram @maxwellives