Long before the museum began to emerge from the Orlando wetlands, Florida springs were one of the region’s major attractions.
Native Americans used springs for thousands of Spanish wars before the arrival of the 1500s. The conquistadores’ reports that fresh water gushing out of the forest pits encouraged the legends of the Youth Fountain.
Centuries later, when springs of sulfur were believed to have medicinal properties, White Sulfur Springs, on the banks of the river Suwannee, became one of Florida’s first commercial tourist attractions. In the early 1900’s, glass boats began to attract tourists to Florida’s springs, and the beautiful underwater world attracted the first filmmakers. Many movies and radio shows were filmed underwater in Silver Springs, a group of springs in Marion County, on their own, including “Sea Hunt” and “The Creature From the Black Lagoon.”
Florida has one of the world’s largest freshwater springs. Every day, more than 1,000 state water sources produce billions of groundwater. Springs offers an important marine sanctuary, including the famous Florida manatee, and anchor Florida Florida water park. Tourists from all over the world come to Florida springs to fish, kayak, canoe, swim and scuba diving over miles of underwater caves that connect springs to the aquifer with tap water above. Springs tourism contributes to the economy of the rural economy throughout the region.
And yet, despite having a major role to play in government tourism, Florida springs are at the center of a slow-moving environmental crisis.
Over the past few decades, social unrest, population growth, climate change, water pollution and pollution from agriculture and toilets have eroded Florida springs. Many springs show significant water shortages. Some have stopped walking.
Kissengen Spring was one of the first to be killed. More than 20 million waters a day were poured from Kissengen Spring to the River of Peace. The springs play on the platforms and baths and were used as a playground by the soldiers during World War II.
During the 1930’s and 1950’s, the water supply to the fountain gradually began to diminish. In the early 1960’s, the fountain stopped flowing. A report by the United States Geological Survey shows that groundwater pumping between the 1950s and 1975 lowers groundwater by 60 feet[60 m]. .
The receding tones gradually choked the water to White Sulfur Springs, one of Florida’s tourist attractions, which stopped its first tour in 1977.
At the same time water fields were running out, damage to water tanks, toilets, common fertilizers and grazing lands were flooded with springs and nutrients, causing algae to sprout in springs throughout the state. The white, sandy, and curved streams of eelgrass screens shown in films from the 1940’s and 1950’s have been replaced by green, woolly mats, which cover the underwater surface. Without eelgrass, the foundations of healthy springs, natural surrounding springs are collapsing.
In Silver Springs, algae are so plentiful that volunteer swimmers remove them manually. Each month, members of the Silver Springs Professional Dive Team go down to clean the algae under glass under glass so that guests can see the old underwater movies, which swimmers also need to clean.
The Florida government officially recognized the fact that many Florida springs were in crisis 20 years ago, when, in 2001, Jeb Bush, then governor, signed a law to create the Florida Springs Initiative. The program provided initial funding for several follow-up surveys, monitoring, training and assistance to landowners to reduce the outflow of toilets and fertilizers in the springs and to address the declining spring.
Much of what has been collected as a result of these experiences has allowed scientists to follow the steady decline of Florida springs in detail. Most importantly, this indicates that efforts to protect the springs to date have not been successful, as nutrient depletion is increasing.
Although the number of springs is dwindling, the rehabilitation of the Crystal-fed spring, on the Gulf Coast in Florida, indicates further damage. Crystal River is the second largest spring group in Florida. Decades ago, the landscape of Crystal River made it a popular fishing and scuba diving destination. During the 1960s and 1970s, however, development, digging of canals and pollution caused a number of events that caused the river grass beds to collapse and be replaced by algae blankets in subsequent years. The notable appearance of Crystal River was disturbed until it was less than 10 meters high.
For the past six years, the Save Crystal River community organization and the water rehabilitation company Sea & Shoreline have used state and federal funds to remove billions of tons of algae and mud beneath the Crystal River. and planting more than 350,000 eelgrass plants.
As eelgrass regenerative beds grow, they look good and now also support the number of Florida’s most popular vegetable enthusiasts throughout the year: manatees.
The eelgrass planting project did not solve all the problems of Crystal River. Seawater and groundwater pumping continue to reduce the flow of water to the Crystal River springs, and the run-off continues to be slightly salty. While there is work to be done, the steady change in water quality and abundance of manatees is contributing to the thriving tourism market and demonstrating the potential for local and regional governments to work together and take what scientists have found to save their springs.
Jason Gulley and an assistant professor of geology at the University of South Florida, a swimming and artistic instructor for nature, science and travel to Tampa, Fla. You can follow his work Instagram.