Alexander Springs is another spring in the Ocala National Forest. It is one of 27 first magnitude springs in the State of Florida and the only one in the forest. The springs discharges into the Alexander Springs Creek and then travels 10 miles to the St. Johns river. It must have been amazing before it became so compromised with algae. Right at the main headspirings, there are sea grasses and white sand. There are also deep cliffs and carved limestone boulders that extend to a depth of about 25 feet. It is one of the most dramatic springs I have seen and swimming in it I felt small indeed.
This spring really made me wish I was certified to dive, because I would have loved exploring all the edges of the cliffs and the caves below.
Yet for all its natural beauty, bounded by hardwood and palm forests, pine wooded and hills and a sand beach, the water is filled with lots of algae. Some is merely a thin coating on the sand and rocks below, which is a bit less alarming than encountering large clumps as I did.
Algae clung to my camera housing and snorkel and I started to hyperventilate a bit as I noticed it permeate the entire water column the further away I got from the headspring. It astounded me that so many people who were swimming there failed to notice the water quality issue. My friend, the wonderful springs artist Margaret Tolbert and I discussed the concept of the "new normal". For people who never saw the springs before they became impaired, it likely appears beautiful to them. There are still contrasts between light and dark, the sunlight still creates patterns in the sand, there are sea grasses and vents and caves. The volume of water coming out of the springs is still quite impressive. Above the surface of the water, you can see how expansive the springs are and much of the riparian landscape is natural instead of bounded by concrete or manmade beaches. Still, seeing all the algae made me very concerned for the ongoing health of the springs.
Why there is so much algae is the million dollar question. Swimming away from the vent, I went closer to the shore on the far side and looked down upon the scene above. The wide angle lens made the ground below appear spherical, like a planet in despair. There were no visible sea grasses left here, as algae encroached upon the sand floor. Other areas appeared almost black.
I turned back and headed for the headsprings one last time to find some positive memory to take with me, so I could remember what I am working so hard to preserve. What an impressive sight Alexander Springs must once have been with blue water, fresh white sand, limestone cliffs and healthy native grasses waving from the force of water instead of being crushed or held stiffly in place by the weight of invasive algae that reduces sunlight and made the whole experience feel kind of dirty in a place that should be all about rebirth and washing things clean.