Gilchrist Blue Springs: An Underwater Forest
By Ailee Odom, FSI Outreach Intern
As a Florida native with a love for water resources, the chance to visit a new spring is something I will never pass up. After being invited to join the FSI team on their trip to Ruth B. Kirby Gilchrist Blue Springs State Park in High Springs, I was ecstatic! This was my first time visiting a spring in the Alachua area since starting school at the University of Florida, and I could not have imagined a better spring to start with!
Equally exciting as visiting a new spring was having the opportunity to observe the work of the FSI environmental scientists as they collected data in Naked Spring. This spring was beautiful. After being closed off from the public for over a year, the growth of the submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV) was incredible. The best description for it would be an “underwater forest” full of native growth important to the health of the spring and the ecosystem it supports.
From there we went snorkeling in the main public spring, Gilchrist Blue Spring, and got (respectfully) up close and personal with the native plants and wildlife. One turtle in particular seemed to take a liking to us and followed us around as we explored the spring, every time I turned around – there it was! Getting to explore a new spring and learn more about its ecology was a great experience and I left inspired to start working on my fish identification skills for any future expeditions.
After visiting both of these springs, the influence of human activity on the makeup of the SAV was extremely evident. In the Gilchrist Blue Spring you could see straight to the sandy bottom as much of the SAV in the swimming area had been stirred up by people swimming and snorkeling. Comparing this to the Naked Spring, which was full of SAV after a year of being closed to the public, it is obvious the impact humans have on the development of SAV. These two springs being side by side, yet having such drastic differences in terms of SAV, serves as a great example of the power of springs restoration. With just one year, springs can be turned around and revived in their natural state and full of life.
Having the chance to follow the FSI team around in the Ruth B. Kirby Gilchrist Blue Springs State Park was an amazing and informative experience. After watching the environmental scientists collect data and talking to the team about what makes a healthy spring, I left feeling inspired to continue educating myself about the importance of springs and springs science. With hands-on experience, I now understand just how much of an impact we can all have on the springs and waterways around us.
*The following photos were taken by Angeline Meeks during our trip to Ruth B. Kirby Gilchrist Blue Springs State Park on September 10, 2020 (L-R): Ailee Odum, FSI Outreach Intern at Gilchrist Blue head spring, FSI Staff and Intern at Gilchrist Blue head spring, Submerged Aquatic Vegetation (SAV) at Naked Springs.