Ichetucknee Springs State Park

Wow! Things have been so busy lately. Where do I even start? So much has happened since I posted last.

I guess the biggest thing and really the source of all the other business, is that my research team was picked to chaperone a series of undergraduate field groups. It was an incredible opportunity and we were able to go on some amazing outings!

Everything I’ve done since the last update

  • Attended several ecology symposiums based around Florida environmental research.
  • Learned about the threats to Florida’s aquifer and extensive spring network.
  • Got to go camping at Ichetucknee Springs State Park, which was incredible!
  • Our group went for a midnight paddle/kayaking Ichetucknee River
  • We helped volunteer in an informal garbage-removal project
  • Visited and went camping at Ginnie Springs
  • Had a blast visiting Silver Lake Campground
  • Snorkeled off of Fort Lauderdale
  • Had (what felt like) a near-miss with Hurricane Dorian

It has been such a busy couple of months! I feel like I dropped the ball with this blog project. I was really hoping that I would write here consistently and use this as an online daily writing exercise, but I just really don’t know when that will be possible. But, at the same time, when I think back to everything I’ve done in the past six weeks, it’s really no surprise.

My favorite things

I think that of all the things we did, my favorite events were a tie between camping at the springs, especially in the cute Ginnie Springs cabins, and kayaking in Ichetucknee Springs. Although, freediving in Blue Hole was probably a highlight of the trip too.

A Freediver in Florida's Blue Hole
Snorkeler in Florida’s Blue Hole Spring, Ichetucknee Springs State Park

Photo source: Flickr

The only downside: Alligators

The only downside to our time in nature– and I’m thinking specifically of Ichetucknee Springs here– is that some of our group was terrified of the idea of alligators in Ichetucknee Springs.

Florida Swamp with Green Algae

I made the mistake of telling them that they’re unlikely to see alligators, but they’ll almost certainly see snakes. It felt like wrangling little kids, honestly– by their reaction you would never guess that this is a group of undergraduate biology and ecology students! Honestly, it was sort of embarrassing… But, anyway, they finally got over their fears and we all ended up having a great time. The temperature of the spring water was perfect.

The other downside: I didn’t see any alligators

I didn’t tell any of the group because I didn’t want to cause a panic, but I was secretly hoping to see an alligator in Ichetucknee Springs! I know the danger involved but it is so exciting for me every time I get to see one up close. But, I always remember about the alligator attack in Blue Springs and use that knowledge to keep me from making a stupid choice.

Alligator in Florida Spring
Searching for alligators in florida springs

Florida Springs

Yesterday we returned from our field study trip to Ichetucknee Springs. The whole state park is so beautiful, I think it’s one of the best in Florida. I especially love Blue Hole. That color of electric blue is seriously one of the most beautiful and awe inspiring things I have ever seen before.
But, as beautiful as they are, more than ever, I am afraid. I am afraid for our planet and nature.
 
Florida’s springs are in truly danger. Although their history is as old as the Earth itself, humans must intervene now to prevent permanent damage and loss.
 
The springs will exist- unless we succeed in truly draining them all by dropping the water table!
But will they retain their beauty? Is a spring that’s choked off by toxic algae still the same spring? Will they be usable to humans?
We went to one spring, formerly a popular attraction, called White Sulphur Springs. It is an old bath house that people used to use for mineral healing. It is completely drained now. The spring levels dropped and now it’s just an empty pool, which is heart breaking and scary to see.
 
Florida’s springs and waterways are under assault from many directions.
 
First, the most insidious threat is that of over-consumption of water.
 
In the year 2019 it is unfathomable that big agriculture insists on using archaic and wasteful irrigation technology. Superior technology, like drip irrigation, and vertical farming techniques, must be adopted.
 
I read an article last week about the rubber stamp approval process that big ag gets in Florida to dig a new deep-access irrigation well.
 
It is disheartening that our representatives are so out of touch with the reality of our ecological disaster.
 
If big agriculture in Florida adopted sensible and honest approach to water management we would all be in a much better spot for the future. Why is it so hard to adopt modern irrigation principles? The truly unfathomable thing about the situation is that not only would farms be more productive if they switched to sensible practices, but they would be more profitable as well! 
 
Secondly, nitrates. I cannot believe that so many people still consume beef when it’s so clearly devastating for our environment. We drove past a feed lot and it was horrifying to see the amount of animal effluent that is leeching into our groundwater. 
 
The amount of water required to raise cattle is completely unjustifiable in the modern era. When will people come to their senses and stop engaging in such destructive lifestyle choices?
We met our new neighbor last week and I had to bite my tongue as she told us about her plans to fertilize her entire yard. We only just met her, I don’t want to be the one to start the relationship off on a bad foot.
I forget sometimes that it’s not common knowledge that fertilizer is toxic to our ecosystem, and that releasing nitrates into groundwater is like showering algae with growth hormone!
Michelle, who was with me for the conversation, suggested afterward that we should not say anything directly, but should slip an algae awareness brochure into her mailbox.
And lastly, I am so worried about our river’s future in terms of children’s appreciation for the natural environment.
While at Ichetucknee we saw countless children running off-trail and causing soil erosion. Don’t they know better? Of course they don’t… but their teachers and parents should. Where were they, while these kids were running wild and demolishing a fragile ecosystem?

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