The Beauty and the Heartbreak of Wakulla Springs and Wakulla River

Wakulla Fragonard ©Lynne Buchanan
All Rights Reserved
Wakulla Alligator ©Lynne Buchanan

Source of Wakulla Springs ©Lynne Buchanan

Eelgrass in Dark Water ©Lynne Buchanan

I took the boat trip from the lodge along the Wakulla River the morning after I arrived.  It was beautiful and heartbreaking.  The ranger, who had worked there for eleven years, said in many ways the river looks just liked it did when Columbus came.  Edward Ball, who founded the park, erected a gate to keep recreational boaters and others out of the park.  Though he was taken to court over this, he was so wealthy and had so much political influence that the fence stayed.  There are no trails and the only way to see the section of river right by the lodge is on ranger run boats.  The banks are pristine wilderness with cypress trees, pickerel weed, and other native plants.  There are many birds and alligators and we were able to see nests up close.  Steam was rising off the river and it was very mysterious and transported me to a different time.   When I got a glimpse of the small, wild creek off the Wakulla River in the first photograph, it made me think of a Fragonard painting.

Yet, despite all the beauty we saw, I was also very saddened.  The ranger said they used to run glass bottom boats to the source of the springs every day all day.  He said now the water quality has been so compromised that there are only about two weeks a year that the water is clear enough for them to run boats there and then only a couple of times a day.  When we had completed our return trip along the river, we passed near where the 180+ foot deep spring comes out of the earth.  You used to be able to see way down to the bottom, but now that is impossible since the water is so cloudy.  The ranger said the damage that has been caused to the springs by nitrogen from fertilizers and other pollutants is so severe that he doubts we will ever be able to get the springs back to full health.

I asked the ranger about the dark water and he said it was even darker than usual from all the rain, since it causes the black water of North Florida rivers to leach into the springs. It is not just the dark water that is the problem though, it is all the pollutants that are carried by our rivers that find there way into the springs, even though the immediate area around them has been protected.   In Eelgrass in  Dark Water, you can see the tannins from the rivers as well as algae blooms on the bottom of what was once white sand.  As rainstorms become more intense due to climate change, the damage done to the springs of North Florida will increase.  It was incredible to me that the water could be so affected when these springs are pumping 200 to 300 million gallons of water a day.  The springs and rivers of Florida are in critical condition and we are in danger of losing these valuable natural resources if we don't take action.