FSI Blog

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  • 15 Nov 2017 8:19 PM | Tess Skiles (Administrator)

    Despite chilly breezes and overcast skies, Tom Morris led 29 outings enthusiasts through the karst region surrounding Suwannee River State Park. To start the trip, Tom used samples to explain the differences between Ocala limestone, Suwannee limestone, and chert. Limestone is calcium carbonate or CaCO3; the Ocala Limestone is soft and crumbles in your hand; the Suwannee Limestone is hard; while chert is silica dioxide with formula SIO2.  

    He also brought along a fossilized mastodon rib bone and his pet cave crayfish. Before heading to the trail, Tom took us by a pole marked with the peak flood levels of the Suwannee during the past 70 years.  The year 1948 tops them all. The first stop along the three mile loop trail was Lime Creek Run, which was dry despite the Irma flood. 

    Lime Sink Run

    The next stop was Little Gem Springs, a small but charming spring bubbling into the Suwannee.  We all agreed this beauty deserved its name. 

    Little Gem Spring, Suwannee River State Park

    Along the path to Lime Sink, Tom identified blue beach, pignut hickory, sparkleberry as well as a multitude of other flora. Lime Creek Spring provided a quiet setting before heading back to the parking lot for lunch, where some sprinted off to check out the Withlacoochee convergence. 

    Lime Sink, Suwannee River State Park

    After lunch we headed to Falmouth Springs two miles East on Route 90. The water in this spring flows underground to Lime Sink and Little Gem. As a SCUBA diver, Tom also let us know that divers had explored more than 5 miles of underground passageways from Falmouth. It is mind blowing to think people could (or would) accomplish such a feat.

    Falmouth Spring

    The next stop was Withlacoochee Rapids, where only Tom knew how to find the place in this off road ramble. The view of the rapids was spectacular. A number of us are ready to paddle it soon.

    Withlacoochee River Rapids

    The final stop was the magnificent Madison Blue Springs, where despite the chill several brave souls jumped in for a quick dip. 

    Madison Blue Springs, Withlacoochee River

    While we all enjoyed a beautiful day at a park seldom visited, we should also mention that the park is threatened by nitrate pollution from the nearby chicken processing factory and other agricultural operations. A recently settled consent order has forced effluent limitations on concentrations of total nitrogen, which is a step in the right direction. While we hope to preserve this beautiful wonder, we have a wait and see attitude.

    (Photo by John Moran) A local farm pumping contaminants directly into the Suwannee River

    In summary, the outing was fun, educational, and introduced us to parts of Florida we never knew existed. Many members of the group are ready for new adventures. 

    A hike up the Alapaha River is first on the list. See you on the river!

    Written by Dave Wilson, Florida Springs Institute Board Member 11/14/17

  • 31 Aug 2017 3:46 PM | Tess Skiles (Administrator)

    This year's Springs Field School was a wonderful success! Students from around the state joined us in the Ocala National Forest for four full days of springs exploration and education. With a great group of students, presenters, and some incredible sights, it was one of our best years yet.

    Dr. Bob Knight and guest speakers, Bob Palmer, Jim Gross, Christine Denny, Monica Ross, Eric Hutchenson, Nathan Reaver, Whitey Markle, Merrillee Malwitz-Jipson, Guy Marwick, and Lars Anderson joined us to teach about the ins and outs of Florida's water resources and their conservation. The course covered springs biology, ecology, and restoration along with Florida geology,and legislative efforts of springs protection. Each day, students participated in springs field visits to learn about water quality testing with our very own Emily Taylor (pictured below). Following a field demonstration at each site, the springs exploration began!


    The photo above shows multiple schools of around 2,500 striped bass taking refuge in Silver Glen Springs (yes, we counted). This is a very rare occurrence and our timing couldn't have been better!



    Dr. Knight teaching students how to use a plankton tow net for measuring water particulates.



    Field School students are recording water conductivity, turbidity, dissolved oxygen, and temperature.



    The group often found themselves pausing to share stories and take in the nature around us. We found this spot after a short hike to the sand boils at Silver Glen Springs. We were warned about a massive amount of mosquitos on this hike but the group, as a whole, decided to make the trip anyways (that's what you call dedication). There ended up only being a few bugs, so we were glad we trudged on.



    The group pictured gazing at the solar eclipse during our paddle on the Silver River!



    As The Clash once sung, "should I stay or should I go now?"


    Guy Marwick, founder of the Silver Springs Museum, gives the class a history lesson on Silver Springs State Park.


    And last but not least...


    We're still trying to figure out who had the bright idea to give Dr. Knight a squirt gun! Our summer environmental science intern, Fauve Wilson, was one of the many paddlers who fell victim to Dr. Night's water shenanigans during our Silver River trip. However, given the heat, there were a few appreciative targets. Thanks for the cool down, Dr. Bob.

    Copyright © 2017 Tess Skiles Photography, All rights reserved

  • 17 Nov 2016 3:55 PM | Heather Obara (Administrator)

    By Dave Wilson (FSI Outings Leader)

    Twenty six springs enthusiasts enjoyed a perfect day hiking along the Alapaha River near Jennings, Florida.  This river is notable because of its large fluctuations in water level.  When ten inches of rain fall in South Georgia, the water can be 25 feet deep.  After informative talks by Florida Springs Director, Bob Knight, and leader, Tom Morris, we began with a side trip to an old settlement, where a pipe had been dug into the side of the bank.  While rusty from years of exposure to the elements, it continues to flow at a constant rate.  A second side trip was to an old cemetery with tombstones going back 100 years. 

    While some of us have canoed this river at flood stage when the water raged through the treetops, today it was virtually dry.  After a short lunch break, we began our hike by strolling up the middle of the river. 

    Along the way we were not only able to see fossilized clam (or mussel) shells, several muscular looking Ogeechee Tupelo trees (their honey is the best!), outcroppings of iron sulfide formations, but also a swallet (swallow hole), where the river roars back into the aquifer.   If the river had been canoeable, we would never have known the hole was there.  We must have spent an hour enjoying the “inside” of the aquifer. 

    While the swallet was exciting, the main goal of the trip was the “Dead River,” which is a distributary of the Alapaha.  Even though most of us are quite familiar with tributaries of a river, distributaries (where the water flows away from the river) are unusual.  When the water level is high, the Dead River roars and would make for a deadly canoe trip.  Today it silently exposed its magnificent rock formations, dead logs, and trash.  The photographic opportunities were endless. 

    All in all, we had a great day on the river.  Several participants put in a word for a followup trip to the Alapaha Rise in the near future.  Keep your eyes open for the next trip.

  • 20 Jun 2016 4:25 PM | Heather Obara (Administrator)

    The Howard T. Odum Florida Springs Institute (FSI)  is concerned about elevated levels of nitrate nitrogen in much of the Floridan Aquifer (see potable water nitrate nitrogen analysis findings). This same Floridan Aquifer is the source of water feeding our 1,000+ artesian springs in North Florida and is the principal supply of potable water for the region.

    A substantial portion of the water in the Floridan Aquifer has been contaminated with nitrate by human activities, including the use of fertilizers and the disposal of wastewater in areas where the aquifer is most vulnerable. Resulting nitrate concentrations are well above harmful thresholds (numeric nitrate standard of 0.35 mg/L) in most of Florida's natural springs.

    Elevated groundwater nitrate concentrations are also acutely toxic to humans. In some areas of North Florida, nitrate concentrations in drinking water wells are already above the safe drinking water standard of 10 mg/L.

    While groundwater nitrate concentrations are rising throughout the region, most areas are still below this acute threshold. However, a growing body of medical literature is indicating that there may be chronic effects of nitrate at levels at or below those found in community drinking water supplies, including municipalities and in bottled drinking water. Human health issues that have been found to be exacerbated by sub-lethal nitrate concentrations in drinking water include various forms of human cancer and birth defects.

    For these reasons the Florida Springs Institute is collecting, analyzing, and publishing nitrate data from a variety of potable groundwater suppliers.

    For the health of our springs and our human population, we believe it is critical that the public is aware of this growing threat. If you are concerned about the health of our springs and the availability of clean water for drinking and bathing, let your local and state leaders know.

    Click on the image to enlarge.

    Click on the image to enlarge.

    Click on the image to enlarge.

  • 05 May 2016 10:48 AM | Heather Obara (Administrator)

    Florida Springs Institute Director, Dr. Robert Knight, and Senior Environmental Scientist for FSI, Ron Clarke, were recently selected for publication in the February 2016 edition of the Journal of Earth Science and Engineering. The article, entitled "Florida Springs - A Water-Balance Approach to Estimating Water Availability", and a brief summary can be found below: 

    Click on the image above to access the full article. 

    Abstract: Florida’s artesian springs receive groundwater outflows from the Floridan Aquifer System and are concentrated north of I-4 and west to the Florida Panhandle. These springs and their resulting spring runs support a unique freshwater ecology dependent on perennial flows, constant temperature and chemistry, and high light transmissivity. Numerous observations indicate that Florida’s springs flows are declining as a result of the increasing extraction of groundwater for human uses. North Florida’s karst environment is especially susceptible to nitrogen pollution from agricultural and urban development. An empirical springs/aquifer water budget is needed to better understand these spring stressors. Discharge data from 393 of the state’s 1,000+ artesian springs are used to estimate trends in total spring discharge by decade since 1930-39. This analysis indicates that average spring flows have declined by about 32%. Large groundwater pumping centers are altering spring flows over the whole springs region. Existing groundwater pumping rates from the Floridan Aquifer in 2010 were more than 30% of average annual aquifer recharge, and allocated groundwater use in north-central Florida is nearly double current estimated uses. Based on biological research conducted in Florida springs, these flow reductions are from two to six times greater than declines known to result in significant harm to aquatic resources.

    Key words: Artesian springs, Floridan Aquifer, hydrology, aquatic ecology, aquifer recharge.

  • 18 Apr 2016 9:19 AM | Heather Obara (Administrator)

    By Juliette Jones

    Florida has more freshwater springs than anywhere else in the world---that makes Florida the Springs Heartland of Planet Earth.Lucinda Faulkner Merritt 

    At this moment in time there are a great many environmental challenges competing for our attention, but few as immediate as those connected with food and water.  I have to admit that not so long ago I managed to keep myself oblivious to the environmental crises now escalating in Florida and elsewhere.  It’s common to want to overlook social and environmental issues up until the moment we feel the reality of a direct impact.   For me transformation began when a I became aware that there were growing threats to the health of  Warm Mineral Springs here in Sarasota County and realized an imminent need for the preservation, protection and depth study of this unique and valuable natural resource---issues which are still not being addressed by the stewards (City of North Port.)

    I began to look around for like-minded people, and discovered an article in the Herald Tribune entitled PROTECT WARM MINERAL SPRINGS’ FLOW by Jono Miller, a respected local environmentalist and educator.   Miller’s article inspired me to look around the state to learn more about the ecology of springs in Florida.  I was fortunate to come upon the Howard T. Odum Florida Springs Institute (FSI) in Gainesville, founded by Dr. Robert Knight, an expert on the ecological health and restoration of springs.  Becoming a member of FSI provided exposure to individuals, organizations and information essential to my understanding of the real issues that concern Florida springs and water resources.

    Springs have a magic and a mystique about them, attractive to both body and soul.  For some deep reason, legends and sacred mythos arise around springs in almost every culture.  I think it’s because springs bring to the surface the lifeblood of Mother Earth and sometimes, as is the case with Warm Mineral Springs, this lifeblood is prehistoric---or at least very old. 

    My globetrotting has permitted me to visit springs and cenotes all around the world.  The famous Lourdes waters flow from a spring in France beneath the Grotto of Massabielle, where in 1858 an apparition of the Virgin Mary is believed to have appeared to a young girl named Bernadette.  Since that time miracles of healing are reported to have taken place.   The water has no thermal value, nor significant mineral properties, nonetheless attracts Catholic religious pilgrims from near and far who hope for a curative experience.  In this particular case, whatever the spirit and nature of place, the original mythos has been overshadowed by a great deal of hype inclusive of souvenir shops, people hawking water in plastic bottles and  bath cubicles “purified” by irradiation. 

    On the other end of the spectrum Te Waikoropupu Springs, located in Golden Bay on the South Island of New Zealand, elicits a profound feeling of reverence and awe.  Te Waikoropupu is the largest cold water spring in the Southern Hemisphere and contains some of the clearest, purest water ever measured.  These waters are protected by the indigenous people of New Zealand and the New Zealand Government, both of which take great pride and care to protect and preserve this treasured asset for future generations.  No one is allowed to go into Te Waikoropupu without obtaining permission.   A plaque at the entrance reads as follows:  Te Waikoropupu Springs are a taonga (treasure) and waahi tapu (sacred place) for the Maori, both locally and nationally.  The legends of Te Waikoropupu are told in the stories of Huiawa, its taniwa (guardian spirit).  In Maori tradition the springs are waiora (the purest form of water) which is the wairua (spiritual) and the physical side of life.  The springs provide water for healing and in the past were a place of ceremonial blessings at times of birth and death and the leaving and returning of travelers.  Spending time at this spring was  a great blessing , which provided a never to be forgotten impression of deep  beauty, but a model of community, deeply aligned in their stewardship and appreciation of this natural wonder.   

    The people of New Zealand observe a sacred water and springs ethic, wherein it’s commonly understood that Te Waikoropupu provides a sacred link both to the integrity of future generations and the past.  If anyone were to wonder what pure nature would have looked like in Florida a hundred years ago, visit Te Waikoropupu, and if you have a heart for nature you will probably weep.    For you will see and feel the sacred character of a spring manifest in both a physical and spiritual sense.  The concept of preservation and protection is taken very seriously among New Zealanders.

    Not so much in Florida, where the sacredness of the natural world is, for all practical purposes diminished or entirely missing.  Despite the fact that our human physical form is composed largely of water, our culture has failed to realize the sacred relationship of water to life itself.  There is plenty of evidence of disdain as we observe the plight of Florida freshwater springs.  “500 years after the arrival of Ponce de Leon on his mythical search (for the fountain of youth), our real magic fountains are imperiled by pollution, neglect and the groundwater demands of a thirsty state.  Some have stopped flowing and many are choked with algae, their blue waters turning murky and green.  Once a source of awe, our springs are now a source of deep concern, their future unclear.”  Further, “The vast Florida Aquifer, the source of our drinking water and our springs, is neither invulnerable to pollution nor is it infinite.  Withdrawals are exceeding deposits in our bank of liquid assets, and saltwater intrusion is rising.” - John Moran, Springs Eternal Project

    Most Florida springs are located in north and central Florida as are most of the existing interest groups with the desire and impetus to protect them.  Development, pollution and demands on levels of the Florida aquifer continue to take a heavy toll on the health of springs despite the efforts of many organizations and individuals to get the necessary help from the legislature to guard and protect our springs and water resources.  Recent announcements citing efforts toward water protection are flimsy in their effect and designed for political show.  The state of Florida currently lacks the political will to do what is necessary to save the springs, and springs lovers need to become increasingly savvy and politically active if things are going to change.

    The “Bowls of Light” are Growing Darker

    Marjory Stoneman Douglas called Florida Springs “bowls of liquid light” but the light has been obscured since her observations of yesteryear.  Reporter, Dave Struck was raised near Wakulla Springs and writes, “The water visibility is so reduced that Wakulla now only retains one glass bottom boat.  The algae is a black fuzz that coats the bottom and sucks up all the light. The luxurious, waving eel grass is pretty patchy; the schools of fish are mostly missing.  The Wakulla Springs of my childhood swimming hole, the Wakulla Springs of jeweled luminescence, now exists only in memories.”

    This and worse has been the fate of many Florida springs, some like White Sulfur Springs, a once popular tourist destination located near Jacksonville, has  stopped flowing, apparently due to over pumping of the ground water north of the spring.   In the past twelve years the environment of Sarasota County’s Warm Mineral Springs has changed radically.  The sulfur content is greatly reduced, the (good, rare) algae of yesteryear is scarce, where there were once a great many birds, little fish and turtles, there are  few, and the once robust healing influence of the waters is radically diminished. 

    What can be done?  First, fall in love with a spring.  Begin by checking out the Springs Eternal Project assembled by John Moran, Lesley Gamble and Rick Kilby.  Next, take a look at the Florida Springs Institute website and review information on the collection of freshwater springs featured there.  Take a few days and visit a spring. Find a way to be of service to the sacredness of Florida springs and water.  There are immediate means at our disposal as individuals---use less water, plant floridascape, reduce or eliminate pesticides.  But most of all find a spring and fall in love with it, while you have the opportunity.  

    This article was reprinted with permission from the author.

    Celebrate Earth Day 2016 with the Florida Springs Institute on Friday, April 22nd from 5-10 p.m. at the Great Outdoors in High Springs. For more information, click here

  • 12 Apr 2016 9:32 AM | Deleted user

    On April 1-3, 2016, the Florida Springs Institute hosted an immersive educational experience for college students at Ginnie Springs Outdoors. Here's an inside look at the event!

  • 01 Mar 2016 3:03 PM | Heather Obara (Administrator)

    On February 25, 2016, the Florida Springs Institute sent a letter to the Southwest Florida Water Management District regarding our concerns surrounding the establishment of Minimum Flows and Levels for Gum Slough. That letter can be found here.

    In an email sent later that day, FSI Advisory Panel member, Linda Bystrak, stated that:

    SWFWMD is only looking at the flow of Gum Slough from 2003 on, so they can get that big spike in 2004 (from 3 hurricanes in 6 weeks) to average into the flow (see graph below). Then they can justify lowering the spring flow (by allowing more groundwater for new houses) by 6%. At the same time SWFWMD has plans to withdraw 10 mgd of With water at the Outlet River and 25mgd at the junction of Gum Slough and the With.  The average flow since 1963 has decreased over 50%, but they do not want to look at the records that far back.

    Concerned citizens should plan to attend the March 29th SWFWMD Governing Board Meeting beginning at 9 a.m. at the District’s Headquarters located at 2379 Broad Street, Brooksville, FL 34604.

  • 11 Feb 2016 2:53 PM | Heather Obara (Administrator)

    The Howard T. Odum Florida Springs Institute is pleased to announce the release of its Kings Bay/Crystal River Springs Restoration Plan.

    This report addresses the decline in water quality and water flow in Kings Bay/Crystal River and provides recommended actions for restoration. The condensed Executive Summary of this report is expected in March 2016.

    To view the full report, click here. To view other restoration plans by FSI, click here.

  • 30 Nov 2015 5:00 PM | Heather Obara (Administrator)

    By Dave Wilson

    Once again Tom Morris led a group of intrepid hikers into the unknown.  This time 15 willing victims descended into the Harvey Sharron Bat Cave located midway between Newberry and High Springs.   Since it is fenced off to keep both visitors and the cave out of harm’s way, we had to stop at Santa Fe College to pick up a key to the gate.  While the cave is small, we were scheduled at the same time with a bunch of local school kids on an adventure into the outdoors, or should we say indoors.  Fortunately, the kids took off to a more far flung part of the cave so we had the place to ourselves.

    Before we entered the cave, Tom and geologist Jim Gross gave a sequence of mini lectures on the topography, karst landscapes, geological history, and geomorphology of the region.  For example, this cave is located on a flat limestone upland plain

    The entrance consists of a spiral metal staircase implanted in a large solution tube that descends 30 feet down into an abyss.  An unusual feature of the cave is the presence of several cylindrical solution tubes which ascend from the “lake room” straight up to the surface.  These tubes allow a bit of light to penetrate into an otherwise totally dark environment.  After entering the cave, Tom discussed the solution chemistry, the movement of water, and the inhabitants.  In the middle of this discussion, someone noticed several eastern pipistrelle bats attached to the ceiling.  These adorable little creatures are the smallest of Florida’s bats.  While we did our best not to disturb them, I am sure they would have preferred we were somewhere else.  Here is a bit more information.  (This clip was extracted from a Wikipedia article.)  

    When the pipistrelles capture food they use the tail or wing membranes to restrain their prey. Some insects are even captured by their tail membrane. It forms a pouch and the bat bends its head in to grab the insect with its teeth. They can catch insects as often as every 2 seconds and increase their mass by 25% in only half an hour.

    While the extent of the hike was only a few hundred yards, we enjoyed mud, darkness, and waist deep water.  Speaking of darkness, at one point we turned off all our lights to experience true and total darkness.  To amplify the effect, we also quit talking for a few minutes.  This gimmick allows you to become connected with your internal machinery such as the sound of your blood pulsing in our ears.  One member of our party slipped and endured a full submersion.  Fortunately, the water was warm.   Unfortunately, his camera did not survive. 

    After exiting the cave, we enjoyed lunch, agreed we had a fun time, and discussed a number of possibilities for future outings. 

    PS:  For more detailed information on the history, geology, and chemistry of the cave, check out the excellent website.  Simply click on any link connected to a topic that catches your interest.  

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