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Biodiversity and Beauty along the Banks of the Santa Fe River

Mushrooms by the Santa Fe River

Mushrooms by the Santa Fe River

A couple of weeks ago I stayed at the Lazy Turtle Lodge in Fort White and brought my kayak to paddle along the banks of the Santa Fe River.  I was also able to hike through areas where the riparian landscape was quite wild.  This image was made in a place where the shoreline did not have grass or other man-made modifications and the owners' home was set back quite far, leaving the riverbank in its pristine state.  This allows natural drainage during floods and the many plants and trees are able to filter runoff.  It also allows the landscape to remain moist, so that mushrooms and other fungi proliferate.  In a subsequent post, I will show images and write about all the types of mushrooms we saw.  First I need a guidebook to identify them all.  This post focuses on the intersection of land and water.

Burnt Tree and Vegetation, Santa Fe River

Burnt Tree and Vegetation, Santa Fe River

What my recent visit to this wild section of the Santa Fe taught me is that dying trees and other decaying life forms that we might wish to eradicate quickly actually provide a whole life support system for other creatures.  This tree was burnt, likely struck by lightening, but fungi, plants and all kinds of organic matter were being sustained.  Out of death comes life. The cycle always continues when it is death by natural means and not poison or clear cutting.

Wild Banks of the Santa Fe

Wild Banks of the Santa Fe

Just imagine all the teeming life here.  Sometimes we encounter areas in nature which seem quite congested with life, say a jungle or a place like this.  Perhaps some ingrained instinct for order tells us this is unsightly or that there is so much we can easily come in and alter the balance.  Yet, when we do this, we do not fully understand the implications of our actions.  Nature has its own balance.  In places like this there is clearly a huge amount of biodiversity and often the proliferation of fungi, plants, and other life forms here and in tropical rainforests are in fact the cure to our ails.

Cypress Tree Brigade

Cypress Tree Brigade

Cypress trees are not just interesting to look at, they provide a whole host of benefits to the ecosystems in riparian landscapes. They provide wildlife habitat to many species, including rare and endangered animals. Their roots also remove many toxins.  Additionally, they are very important for flood control.  Florida is not only subject to sea level rise, in recent years it has experienced many more dramatic swings between droughts and floods. Floods are even more devastating when droughts interrupt them, because the ground is so parched it cannot absorb the excessive levels of water that sometimes result from the intense storms that seem to be more frequently occurring.  Cypress and mangroves will become increasingly critical for Florida's survival as the sea level continues to rise. 

Twisted Cypress Knees

Twisted Cypress Knees

When I encountered this section of the shoreline, it seemed completely alive and anthropomorphic.  I could almost see faces in the trunks of the cypress. Even more importantly, the roots were twisted in on themselves creating a natural barricade that seemed impenetrable.

Cypress on the Santa Fe by Turtle Heaven

Cypress on the Santa Fe by Turtle Heaven

The image above and the ones that follow show more cypress along the Santa Fe.  It was an overcast day, so I had much of the river to myself. These were actually perfect conditions to appreciate the reflections.

Cypress Roots and Vegetation

Cypress Roots and Vegetation

So many rivers in Florida have been unnaturally altered.  Their biodiversity is at great risk because of this.  For now, the Santa Fe is wild and home to many aquatic plants both natural and invasive. Balance still exists. Invasive plants  have not completely overtaken native species as in some places and turtles and birds still abound.

Giant Turtle Along the Santa Fe

Giant Turtle Along the Santa Fe

The turtle in the image above is one of the largest i have ever seen on any river in Florida.  For a turtle to become that big, it must have lived a very long time and that gave me pause. 

White Egret and Turtle on the Banks of the Santa Fe

White Egret and Turtle on the Banks of the Santa Fe

The peace and balance in this scene blew me away.  The beautiful egret perched in the tree, the turtles on the shoreline, the trees and the river, all creating one harmonious ecosystem.  Sadly, this incredible river is at great risk right now. It is heartbreaking to think what might happen to it.  11,000 acres of land on the New River adjacent to the Santa Fe River is being proposed as a phosphate mine site. Toxic wash could end up back in this beautiful river and in Florida's aquifer. Here's the link from Our Santa Fe River about these dangers: https://oursantaferiver.org/dangers-of-phosphate-mines/. The time to raise our voices to protect these waterways is now, or these incredible riparian landscapes will be forever lost.