Why these crystal clear springs are amazing!

Most people know all about the beaches, mild winters, and theme park attractions that make Florida a fun destination. Hiding just below the surface of the ground lies a world that makes our state one of the most unique places on earth. Florida has a vast network of passageways through its limestone bedrock very near the surface of the earth. Known as a "karst" landscape, these Swiss cheese like passages are filled with water to form what is known as the Floridan Aquifer

While karst landscapes exist in many other parts of the world, what makes Florida unique is the number of springs and sinks where this water meets the surface and exposes us to literal windows into the aquifer. Florida has approximately 900 springs, some say even more. The water in the aquifer provides drinking water to most Floridians. The larger springs provide gorgeous recreational opportunities like paddling, swimming, snorkeling, scuba diving, and more. Here in this article, we will explore just a few of our favorites. 

-Alexander Springs

"Alexander Springs Canyon" 24x30 acrylic painting

"Alexander Springs Canyon" 24x30 acrylic painting

Deep in the heart of Ocala National Forest there are a series of amazing natural springs that are not only picturesque, but are major sources of fresh surface water to surrounding ecosystems. Alexander Springs recreation area has a lovely swimming area with ample shallow water for the kids as well as fun snorkeling and scuba diving in the main bowl of the spring itself. The canyon like structures around the vents make the underwater views unique and beautiful. They have canoe rentals, bathrooms with showers, a small store, and a full service campground. Yearly passes are available that allow entry into all of the Ocala National Forest spring recreation areas. 

-Ginnie Springs

Located near High Springs, Fl. Ginnie Springs is a privately owned park that is world renowned for cave diving. The park provides access to at least 7 springs depending on how much you want to explore. Paddling and tubing on the Santa Fe river are the most popular way to explore the spring system at Ginnie and many people just like to relax and float while taking dips into the cool waters of the springs. Snorkeling is also a fun way to see the underwater landscape. They have on site camping, a dive shop, camp store, restaurant, and equipment rentals. They also have a well established Scuba certification program that starts at the most basic level and allows students to progress all the way to Cave Diver level. This spring system is one of the crown jewels of the Santa Fe River. 

-Jackson Blue Spring

Located in the panhandle of Florida near Marianna, Fl., Blue Springs Recreation area is a must see. First off, the spring is gigantic. It's a First Magnitude spring which means it's one of the highest Flow rates in the state.  There are fields of mesmerizing grasses that sway in the water's flow creating a beautiful scene to behold. This spring sports a diving board, a slide, bathrooms, and canoe and kayak rentals. The caves of this spring are also a popular cave diving destination. The run of Blue Spring forms Merritt's Mill pond which is well worth exploring on a paddle craft. There is a lot more to discover along its route. 

-Ichetucknee Springs State Park

There are many springs that feed into the Ichetucknee River located near Ft. White, Fl. This state park has wonderful recreational opportunities such as tubing, kayaking, swimming, snorkeling, and scuba diving. There are two large springs located at the North entrance that provide good access to swimming and snorkeling. There are local campgrounds and equipment rentals nearby. 

-Gilchrist Blue Springs

Blue Springs Park in Gilchrist county has some of the clearest water of the springs in Florida. This private park has recently been purchased by the state to likely become a state park. They have a campground, kayak rentals, bathrooms with showers, and a nice boardwalk trail out to the Santa Fe River. Not only the springs but also the spring runs are a beautiful sight to behold under the water. As with all springs, it's a good idea to keep your feet off of the bottom to protect the fragile vegetation and to keep the water clarity from getting silted up. Be still and quiet in the water if you want to really observe the plentiful fish and turtle population there. 

Some important things to know about the springs here in Florida have to do with just how fragile these systems are.

Once a pristine, crystal clear spring system, many of the Crystal River springs have become laden with algae due to pollutants.

Once a pristine, crystal clear spring system, many of the Crystal River springs have become laden with algae due to pollutants.

The aquifer and springs are facing challenges on multiple fronts. One form of impact comes from water pumping for residential, agricultural, and industrial use. Many of the springs' flow have been reduced drastically and some springs have stopped flowing altogether. More problems occur from pollution sources which include fertilizers, septic tank runoff, underground gas tanks, and other surface runoff making its way down to the very permeable aquifer. Finally, visitor use has its impacts including damage to aquatic and shoreline vegetation, erosion issues, littering, and stressing out wildlife.

There is an impact with every action you take, both negative and positive. Be mindful in your actions and support healthy springs. 

Here are some ways that you can make a difference to insure that these magical gems are protected. 

•Choose foods that minimize overconsumption of water and over application of fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides. More on this here

•If there is the option to connect to a system that treats sewage, please do so. If you have a septic tank, make sure it is well maintained and in proper working order. 

•When visiting springs, enter and exit the water using the proper designated routes or use hard surfaces such as roots or rocks to avoid creating erosion. While in the water, keep your feet off the bottom to prevent silting and damage to vegetation. Don't litter! Give Wildlife space. Do not approach any animals in their natural setting. Allowing them the space to practice their natural behaviors can be important to their survival. 

Tell your legislators that it is important to protect the springs and the aquifer! Get involved with organizations like The Florida Springs Institute and the Florida Springs Council as they fight to protect our greatest resource. 

•Enjoy the springs. Tell your friends and family about the springs and their importance. Teach children about the aquifer and the springs!

Here they are! 

Support our mission and stay inspired with every purchase of my artwork. 

~Curtis

Curtis Whitwam
Review: What was missing from the film "Chasing Coral"
A patch of Elkhorn Coral off of Key Largo. Now a rare sight. Photo: Curtis Whitwam

A patch of Elkhorn Coral off of Key Largo. Now a rare sight. Photo: Curtis Whitwam

I just recently watched the film Chasing Coral and was amazed by this visually stunning journey into the world of coral reefs and the challenges they are facing. This powerful, eye opening documentary was extremely effective in many ways, and yet, was lacking in one very important area which I'll get to shortly. 

First, a list of things the film did very, very well:

The Blacktip Reef Shark relies on the coral reefs for its survival. Photo: Curtis Whitwam

The Blacktip Reef Shark relies on the coral reefs for its survival. Photo: Curtis Whitwam

-Jaw dropping visuals. It was loaded with incredible scenes of the reefs, corals, fish, landscapes, and people. The cinematography was beautiful and sometimes heart wrenching. People respond to visuals and this film delivered the goods. 

-Conveying the message. The makers were able to do something very difficult by illustrating highly complex concepts in a way that makes sense to the average viewer. From the biology of corals to the causes of global warming  and how it affects the reefs, they made it easy to understand. 

-Entertaining. The story had a good pace and the people in the film were interesting and engaging. This, combined with the visuals never left me feeling like I'd had enough. 

-Impactful. They really drove home the point of the film which is that the world's coral reefs are in trouble, that it is something that affects all life including humans, and that something MUST be done. 

But what?.....

Coral reefs provide refuge for beautiful and unique animals like the Moray Eel. Photo: Curtis Whitwam

Coral reefs provide refuge for beautiful and unique animals like the Moray Eel. Photo: Curtis Whitwam

This is where I felt a bit let down by Chasing Coral. Don't get me wrong, it was amazing and I loved it, but I really felt that after watching it, people will want to know what they should do. To their credit, though not covered in depth in the film, the Chasing Coral website has an action guide to read over with some good suggestions. 

Below, I have compiled a short list of ways that we can all help to save coral reefs:

Sea Turtles such as the Hawksbill not only rely on coral reefs, but actually help benefit the corals and other organisms by eating sponges. Original painting: Curtis Whitwam

Sea Turtles such as the Hawksbill not only rely on coral reefs, but actually help benefit the corals and other organisms by eating sponges. Original painting: Curtis Whitwam

In order for corals to survive, we must work to reverse the warming trends happening in the world's oceans. 

-Support clean energy solutions such as solar, wind, electric cars, and efficient energy use with your dollars and your votes. 

-Support coral repopulation efforts. There are currently several coral repopulation projects in locations throughout the world that are successfully growing, reproducing, and repopulating resilient corals. We need more of these farms in order to make a difference. 

-Buy less animal products. Animal agriculture is a major contributor to global warming. Eating more plants is not only healthier for you, but also healthier for the planet. 

-Reduce your need for single use plastics. Plastic consumption drives up demand for fossil fuels . Choose reusable bottles, bags, cutlery, cups, straws, and more.

-Maximize fuel efficiency when traveling by maintaining your vehicle well with properly inflated tires and regular oil changes. Also by carpooling, using mass transit, biking, and walking. 

-In the home, choose energy efficient appliances and lighting. Also run your thermostat slightly higher in summer and a little cooler in winter. A little goes a long way when we all participate. 

-Ask your leaders to support clean energy solutions. From your Mayor, Commissioners, and Governor all the way to your Senators, Representatives, and President, make your voice HEARD!

I'd like to express a huge thank you to the creators of Chasing Coral. Their dedication and hard work manifested into an extremely impactful piece of cinema. May their message be heeded. 

The reefs are depending on us! Will you do your part?

Stay inspired!

Curtis

A few things you probably didn't know about the humble Gopher Tortoise!
Gopher Tortoise

The Gopher Tortoise is a fascinating local inhabitant of the Upland areas of Florida and the Southeastern US. They love dry, sandy soils and areas with lots of shrubby, low vegetation. They can live 40-60 years in the wild and are actually descendants of a large North American land Tortoise dating back some 60 million years! 

Gopher Tortoises create deep burrows where they reside and these burrows help create space and habitat for around 350 other species of animals. This makes them truly a "keystone" species meaning that without them, many other members of a given ecosystem would lack protection from temperature fluctuations, predators, drought, and refuge from fire. 

Tortoise Burrow

A typical Gopher Tortoise burrow in a Pine upland forest. Photo source- Creative Commons

Gopher Tortoises are, like the habitats in which they dwell, dependent upon periodic fires. When fire is suppressed, small trees, shrubs, and brambles begin to grow making it difficult for the gopher tortoise to move around and eventually shade out the low growing plants that gopher tortoises eat. 

The biggest threat to these amazing animals is development. Humans also love building their homes on the high, dry soils of the uplands areas. Tortoises lose their habitat, food sources, and burrows when an area gets covered with houses, roads, businesses, and infrastructure.

They are slow to reach sexual maturity with females not ready to reproduce for 9-21 years. Breeding happens in April-November and nests are built May-June usually within their burrows. 

In competing for mates, male gopher tortoises have been known to ram and push each other, and do a lot of head bobbing and pooping; they may even try to flip each other over. Even females may threaten each other with head bobbing. Females have been known to compete for space and will even run off another Tortoise that it feels is too close to its burrow. 

Check out this video of Gopher Tortoises doing battle with each other, most likely in a conflict over a mate!

Learn more about Gopher Tortoises: http://myfwc.com/GopherTortoise

Stay tuned to this page for more fun and fascinating news and facts about our natural world and don't forget that we local environmental organizations working to protect the most vulnerable ecosystems and organisms. A percentage of all sales of artwork goes to a great local cause.

Stay inspired!

Curtis Whitwam