A Painting by Christopher M. Still
Oil on Linen 48 x 126 in
The past and the future of Florida are gathered together in her beautiful springs. Throughout much of the state, crystal clear waters well up from the earth, collecting and scattering light like azure diamonds. But far more valuable a treasure than gemstones, the springs create and sustain life in an ecosystem unlike any other.
Florida’s springs discharge 19 billion gallons of groundwater each day more than any other place in the world. They form and support systems of rivers that flow to the sea. Each winter as sea water cools, manatees and schools of fish travel up these rivers in an ancient ritual, seeking the constantly warm water of the springs. Fish from both salt and freshwater environments come together here, along with myriad creatures and plants, all vital to the chain of life.
The largest winter visitor is the Florida manatee. Though it may weigh thousands of pounds, this gentle mammal lacks sufficient fat to insulate itself when water temperatures drop below 68°. Its survival depends upon the 72° water of the springs. The manatee’s prehistoric relatives found refuge in such warm freshwater basins millions of years ago.
A pure water drop that emerges from a spring is on an endless journey falling from a cloud as rain, percolating through filtering sand and soil, coursing through the “swiss cheese” structure of limestone that makes up the
Floridan Aquifer until it exits at last from a cave that has opened to the surface. This part of its journey could take twenty years. From there it may travel on to the sea, evaporate, or transpire from the leaves of a plant, becoming part of a cloud and falling again.
There are no new drops of water only the same resource returning to the earth again and again through the water cycle. The same water that flows from the springs today inspired awe and worship in the state’s earliest inhabitants. They frequented these lush pools of life, as evidenced by the fossilized bones of the animals they hunted. The same water also enticed thousands of people to visit Florida’s health spas in the early 1900s the state’s first tourist attractions.
The same life giving spring water still attracts today but now must support and sustain a large and ever increasing human population along with the plant and animal life it gave birth to. Studying the human impact on the health of Florida’s precious springs, and finding ways to protect them and the land areas that recharge them, are important missions of the Department of Environmental Protection, initially funded by the 2001 Florida Legislature.
All parts of the cycle of life sustain one another. As Florida moves into a new age, the challenge of protecting its ancient springs is key to our future.