Sea to Shore Alliance recognizes the unique and invaluable nature of Florida’s natural springs. These extraordinary habitats are of importance to Floridians, who enjoy swimming, diving, and boating in such a unique environment; and are of special importance to many aquatic species in Florida. Resource managers must maintain a balance between preserving this natural resource and allowing different degrees of recreational use. Growing coastal populations in Florida put increasing pressure on freshwater resources, resulting in reduced spring flow and declining water quality. Sea to Shore Alliance recognizes the potential for conflict at this interface between growing coastal populations and habitats and natural resources under pressure to sustain high levels of use. We are currently conducting two projects documenting springs habitat, human use and restoration activities.
Ulele Spring is a natural freshwater spring along the Hillsborough River near downtown Tampa, Florida. Approximately 100 years ago the spring run was filled in and replaced with a pipe system which prohibited fish, manatees, and other flora and fauna from entering the spring basin. Restoration efforts completed in 2014 removed the pipe system and allowed the streambed to flow naturally, restoring estuarine and freshwater habitat between Ulele Spring and the Hillsborough River. Once the streambed was restored and the connection between freshwater and estuarine systems re-established, species typical of Tampa Bay and the lower Hillsborough River were expected to colonize the spring system, including freshwater and brackish aquatic plants, recreationally-popular fish, and the endangered Florida manatee. We received funding to monitor the recolonization of Ulele Spring, collecting baseline data on how quickly a restored spring can return to a natural system and provide habitat to local aquatic species. Depending on funding, we hope to continue monitoring the recolonization of this spring for many years to sufficiently document establishment of native vegetation, use by aquatic species, and overall health of the system.
Physical use of springs can cause damage that might not be apparent during infrequent observations but becomes clear when documented over a season or on an annual basis. Salt Spring and Silver Glen Spring, located along the St. Johns River, face threats from human recreational use rather than declining water quality or reduction in spring flow, which are the main threats facing many of Florida’s springs. Recreational boating within both Silver Glen and Salt springs has been substantial and often navigational waterway access has been blocked by the sheer volume of moored boats. Boating and foot traffic to access the swimming areas of the springs has been noted as eroding stream banks, scarring and/or trampling native aquatic vegetation, as well as encouraging spread of invasive species throughout the spring run. Sea to Shore Alliance has initiated a five year study to obtain baseline environmental and vegetation abundance data at Silver Glen and Salt springs. We will also be documenting if boat restriction zones result in changes in vegetation abundance and growth throughout the winter season. The results of this project will be provided to state and federal managers to assist in establishing appropriate and adequate protection measures for valuable spring habitat, and to help educate recreational users on how to preserve the habitat while also enjoying it.