I hold my breath as I dip my toes into the crystal clear water. The first contact with the all year around 72 degrees liquid gem is always a surprise to the senses. I have visited these magical places in the winter when the outside temperature barely reached 40 degrees and I have visited them when the temperature climbed up to 100 degrees. But no matter which season, the water just draws me in. It's a spell I can not break away from. "What's your favorite spring?" I get asked, I reply: " the one I am currently at".
The truth is, all of Florida's springs are beautiful. All in different ways. Some of them because of the scenery, some of them because of the manatees, some of them because of the abundant wildlife, some of them because of snorkeling, some of them because of kayaking. And it's different springs in different seasons.
Regardless of which one I visit and what for, I leave with the same feeling: invigorated, refreshed, pure. It is almost some sort of spiritual cleansing that takes place for body and mind once you are submerged into the crystal blues. Maybe it is the Fountain of Youth after all?
Florida has the largest concentration of springs in the world with over 1000 of them, they are the window to the aquifer, indicator of the state of our groundwater. Water is our life source. The reason some of us might feel happier around water is because it's tied to our basic survival instinct.
Springs were sacred for native Americans and they have inspired many poets, writers and other artists. They have existed for approximately 55 million years. They are prehistoric, captivating, nourishing and......imperiled.
Reasons for their decline is linked to many things. Overconsumption from private and municipal wells and over-pumping by agriculture decreases the flow rate which can also trigger salt water intrusion. Fertilizer runoff from septic systems and lawns leads to algae blooms. Add littering, trampling of aquatic plants and stressing out wildlife to the mix, Florida has a heartbreaking water crisis on it's hands.
I have come across a few souls that are not "tree huggers" like me and my point to them is that even if you don't care about our environment and you think everything is fine, you do care about Florida's economy. These springs are recreational hotspots for tourists and locals alike and have an immense impact on the states revenue (1 million out-of-state tourists a year translates to a $46 million economic impact).
So why would we not want to protect these waters?
The first possibility is the fact that some of us simply don't know our waterways are in trouble. The second possibility is that we simply don't know what to do about it or think we don't contribute to the decline.
The truth is, even if you do not live close to a spring, you have an impact on them regardless.
From fertilizing your lawn to lingering in the shower. It all matters. Our watersheds are a growing issue but each one of us can to do their part to help preserve Florida's natural wonders.
- Fertilize twice a year with at least 50% slow release nitrogen (Jan-May, Oct.-Dec), skip June-Sept.
- Have your septic system inspected every 2-3 years
- Plant a buffer zone between the lawn and shoreline
- Always dispose of grass clippings, litter and pet waste properly
- Plant natives to reduce fertilizer, pesticides and water usage
- Do not trample on aquatic plants
-Do your own research at www.floridaspringsinstitute.org
-Spread the word
-Practice caution when boating
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Linda Wilinski is a certified Master Naturalist and Springs Ambassador who sees herself as the bridge between humans and nature, raising awareness through her pictures.