Last Sunday, was Mrs. FC's birthday and all the kids were home for BBQ and birthday cake. When the hoopla had subsided and people had begun to disperse, Junior asked me if I wanted to go snorkel at Manatee Springs.
It was late in the afternoon on a cloudy, cool day, but it did seem like a really good idea. So, I grabbed the GOPRO and my snorkeling gear and off we went.
The video above is an edited compilation of short clips I shot with the GOPRO. I haven't installed my Blurfix flat lens conversion kit yet, so the underwater footage will have a slight soft focus.
I forget the depth of the main spring at Manatee Springs, but I think that log on the bottom is around 22 feet down. That depth sticks in my head for some reason.
As pretty as the water and underwater scenery may look to you, this is a degraded spring.
When my kids were little, just 15 years ago, none of the smothering filamentous green algae was there, or at least not so you would notice.
The rocky cliffs around the main bowl were bare and mostly white, the bottom was white sand with patches of eel grass waving in the current.
Of course the rocks and sand are still there, and still white I assume, beneath an all encompassing mat of filamentous green algae.
The culprit here are nitrates in the aquifer water that gushes out of the spring cave. Nitrates are essentially a plant fertilizer, so if you combine very clear water that allows a maximum amount of light to penetrate and fertilizer, you get rampant algae growth. The algae outcompete the vascular plants like eelgrass because they are simpler and reproduce much faster.
The nitrates come mostly from agricultural operations that have located in the recharge area for the aquifer feeding this spring. The Florida Dept. of Environmental Protection, the Water Management Districts, and the farmers/ranchers are working to implement BMP's (Best Management Practices) that can reduce nitrate infiltration from animal waste, but the solution is not an easy one.
The Karst topography here in North Florida is so porous that water literally races down through the soil and broken limerock to the aquifer beneath. Toss in our heavy rains and the problem becomes even more challenging.
In the meantime, the damage is done and spring after spring shows signs of nitrate pollution.
The scary thing is ... they are still beautiful, especially so if you are seeing them for the first time. The visitor or newcomer doesn't have the perspective of "before" to compare to the current "after".
Ignorance is bliss.
From my perspective , every spring I have been to in the past 5 years is a green coated shadow of it's former self.
I am an optimist, but this is one problem that won't be solved quickly.
In the meantime, I'm going to continue to put my head and my GOPRO under as many springs as I can, as often as I can.