At Wakulla Springs, the boat takes a turn around an island of vegetation in the river in order to head back to the dock. As we go broadside to the current, a scene of sparkling water opens up. The water sparkles with the sun, fresh and blue, wide as the sky above. Islands of cypress trees—hundreds of years old—dot the river. A heron glides just over the surface of water, stretching out its wings to float into the trees beyond. A gorgeous sight that is gone in an instant remains for others to come and see.
Along the river are white heron, blue heron and tri-colored heron all perched on limbs at the edge of the water. Slider turtles and snapping turtles are in mounds, piled up on logs and limbs sticking out above the surface. White egrets with coats cleaner than my best dress shirts rest in the trees. Anhingas also rest amongst the trees, birds with beaks so sharp they can pierce straight through a fish. Cute little woodland ducks float along with their babies and right alongside of them are moorhens, tiny and cute birds with a resemblance to ducks. Their red bills serve as warning not to mess with them, as they are some of the most violent birds out there. Butterflies flutter around in the bright red cardinal flowers and just nearby, alligators—some mighty, others tiny—rest in the sun. I encountered all of these animals in a one-hour boat ride, and that is only a portion of the wildlife there.
Interestingly enough, humans have co-existed with these animals for a long time. In fact, work done by some of FSU’s archaeologists discovered pottery and other artifacts that dates back over five thousand years. This makes Wakulla Springs one of the oldest continually inhabited places in the entire continental US. Turned into a series of six parks established in the late 1930s, Wakulla Springs will, if all goes well, remain a place for people and animals to live with one another for many years to come.
But there is a problem. Due to the increased amounts of phosphate, nitrate and nitrite, layers of hydrilla and algae are coating the river and the spring. This comes from farmlands both near and far, as well as municipal plants and other dumping. In the spring, visitors used to be able to see straight down nearly 150 feet into the water. Now, thanks to the growth, the best view you can get is around 70 feet down in a few small locations. It has gotten so bad that Wakulla Springs has cancelled their glass bottom boat tours, and it doesn’t seem to be getting any better.
It’s an issue of pollution, and it’s not getting better. People at Wakulla Springs as well as officials for the city of Tallahassee are doing everything they can to keep pollution out of the system. However, even if all new pollution stopped, it would still take some 50 years for all of the polluted water to get out of the system. The Wakulla Springs Alliance has formed to take action and restore the spring, but this situation is indicative of a larger problem. If we want to continue to enjoy the full beauty of nature, and if nothing else, protect our own water supplies, we need to stop being so careless with our chemicals and more responsible with this world that we’ve been given.
Click here to learn more about Wakulla Springs and how you can visit it.
by ROBERT COCANOUGHER / contributing writer