The St. John's is Not All Picture Perfect...

Confluence of the St. John's and the Lower Wekiva River ©Lynne Buchanan
The St. John's is one of the success stories for turning a river around.  There is even a documentary entitled "The River Returns: The St. John's River."  In 2008, it had the dubious distinction of making it to the list of America's Ten Most Endangered Rivers.  A much less happy honor than being named on of 14 American Heritage Rivers.  How we let something we supposedly cared about decline so much is beyond me, but it also may have had something to do with why people rallied to bring it back.  Although I was happy to see a great deal of beauty and many birds and other animals appearing healthy and happy within the riparian landscape, there were still areas that gave me pause. The photography above was taken where we moored the first night we were out on the water.  Although this makes a nice composition, invasive plants are still a problem along many parts of the river whether they are non-native or native like the dollar weed above.

Sick Eelgrass in the Lower Wekiva ©Lynne Buchanan
The real problems are more visible underwater, which is difficult to see in most places since it is a backwater river.  When I kayaked down the Wekiva one morning, I found a spot where the light was illuminating the water below and made this image with my underwater camera.  Everywhere I pointed the camera revealed a similar distressing scene of thick ropy algae covering the grasses.

Invasive Plants Taking Over Along the St. John's  ©Lynne Buchanan

Love Vine ©Lynne Buchanan  

Heron among the Dollar Weed ©Lynne Buchanan

Love Vine is a parasitic native plant. It is believed by some to have aphrodisiacal properties, hence its name, although it does harm the plants it attaches itself too.  Though birds love to fish among the plants on the shoreline, I have to wonder if too thick a blanket of invasive plants may make it more difficult to fish and even choke off the food supply.  Nature has its own balance and our use of pesticides, fertilizers, and other chemicals is disrupting this balance.

Wood storks along the Water's Edge ©Lynne Buchanan
Wood storks are my absolute favorite birds.  There is so much I love about these creatures.  They are but one of many species of birds I saw on this voyage that depend on the health of the river for their survival.  The thing is we all depend on the health of our rivers.  Somehow developers, people in the legislature, business people, and even every day citizens have distanced themselves from the environment and think it is somewhere else and that our ability to thrive is not dependent on its health, but this is simply not true.  Rivers and waterways provide food and water for us too and without healthy rivers are own future is just as threatened.  

Why I Missed Cut 34 on the St. John's ©Lynne Buchanan
The last late afternoon kayak trip I took, I was trying to find cut 34 to go over to the Norris Dead River.  I passed by this site not even realizing it was the pathway I was looking for.  Something told me to take a photograph of the abandoned, cracked kayak flipped upside down on the thick blanket of invasive plants.  I ended up having to get towed back to the houseboat we were staying on, because the cut I hoped to take back was also grown over.  My rescuers pointed out this place as where I would have been able to paddle through several years ago.  They told me that water management sprays back certain areas, so people can get to marinas, but that many of them are just covered up and choked off.

I had to post these photographs second.  My nature is to recognize life and survival and beauty first, but these images can't be ignored. Despite all the efforts to preserve this river, there are still lingering problems that could easily get out of control if vigilance is not maintained and efforts are not redoubled to keep cleaning up our waterways.  All of Florida's rivers are treasured. If some appear less beautiful than they once were, it is not their fault but ours.