Science tells us that it has been about 4.5 billion years since the Earth cooled from a cloud of primordial gases. Earliest life appeared on this rocky planet sometime after the appearance of liquid water — about 3.5 billion years ago.
The first humans came into the picture less than 2 million years ago.
Earth has always had ups and downs – volcanoes, comet strikes, ice ages and extinctions. These cataclysmic events came and went, and each time nature established a new harmony and stability. Life on Earth was humming along just fine, as evidenced by millions of plant and animal species that were in balance, air not sullied by smog, and waterways and oceans free of plastic and other pollutants.
The first sign of people living in this land we call Florida was less than 30,000 years ago. For most of that time humans and their environment were compatible.
Less than 200 years ago, Florida entered the industrial age. This era, which placed environmental protection in direct conflict with the interests of profit, resulted in the widespread damage of our shared ecosystems. Within that mere instant of geologic time, old growth forests were logged, natural wildlife food chains were eliminated and waterways were despoiled. How quickly life can change.
The last five months should be a wake-up call. In response to the proliferation of people worldwide, the simplest form of life – a virus – has infected millions and exposed the fragility of our society’s economic house of cards.
We are a product of our environment. We depend on clean air, water and food.
This spring we are witnessing one of the dangers of our presumed dominance over life on Earth. Cramming 22 million humans into Florida and bulldozing forest after forest for more and more homes and businesses is a Ponzi scheme that has an ugly ending. If, after this virus, we fail to hold ourselves and our leaders accountable, the next punishment could be worse.
It is gratifying that many Floridians are flocking to our area’s springs during this extended pandemic as a healthy release from their self-quarantine. Beaches are farther away and already overcrowded. But the further damage to our imperiled springs from being “loved to death” is an ongoing problem that is magnified by the COVID-19 crisis.
On Memorial Day weekend, private springs were choked with partiers. However, Florida state parks responded to the COVID calamity by limiting capacity and amenities. The destruction to our springs was temporarily paused. Nature has responded to this short respite by rebounding, as seen by the new growth of native vegetation along Gilchrist Blue’s spring run.
Can we take what we have witnessed and do more to save our springs, outside of a global pandemic?
All of the springs feeding the Santa Fe River are Outstanding Florida Waters, subject to the most protective water quality standards the Florida Legislature can convey. And yet, they remain vulnerable, unsupervised and largely unprotected. Lax enforcement of existing laws is one of the principal reasons why North Florida’s springs are dying.
Ironically, the springs we are drawn to as a necessary escape from our hectic lives, are being pumped to death, polluted to death and loved to death by us.
This year marks the 10th anniversary of the Howard T. Odum Florida Springs Institute. Our privately funded, non-profit, educational and research institute has helped put the plight of Florida’s 1,000-plus natural artesian springs in the public’s consciousness, locally, nationally and worldwide. With the public’s support we are committed to independently monitoring and calling for the protection of this cherished landscape.
Because of our springs, we have something really special. And yet, in a period of less than 50 years their clean, crystalline and gushing water has been severely diminished.
For the staff of the Florida Springs Institute, it has been a decade of presenting the scientific facts and figures, calculating their economic benefits and devising the management techniques needed to turn this problem around. We can only hope that the COVID-19 scare is enough to make us all more aware of our own vulnerability.
It’s taken 4.5 billion years to get us here — don’t you think it is time to get it right?
Dr. Robert Knight is executive director of the Florida Springs Institute with offices in High Springs. The Florida Springs Institute Press has just published “Death by a Thousand Cuts – An Anthology of Springs Opinions” available at: https://bit.ly/springsopinions