Otter Springs, Gilchrist County, March 2017

Like Hart Springs, Otter Springs is upstream from Fanning and Manatee Springs (it’s actually between Hart and Fanning) on the Suwannee River.  It has a narrow, shallow, sandy run that is really quite lovely with a canopy of trees meeting overhead for most of its length.

tree hallway3

The tree hallway of Otter Springs run.

There are two areas that look like they might contain spring vents, but if so, only one was flowing.


The Otter Spring boil with a lot of algae.

Near the headspring, there also were some areas that looked like seeps.


A small seep right near the boil; the campground is in the background.

Although both Hart and Otter Springs are narrow and sandy, Otter Springs has a much lower discharge (10 cfs); it is actually the lowest discharge of any spring that I have visited to date.  It was exceptionally shallow and supported a lot of algae, so my camera kept getting fouled or knocked sideways.  In terms of water chemistry, Otter Springs is quite similar to Hart (1.1 mg/L of nitrate and 0.07 mg/L of phosphate); both springs have fairly high nutrient concentrations, although not as high as Fanning or Manatee.

Due to the abundant algae, Otter Spring wasn’t super photogenic below water.  It’s beauty was above water.


The run just downstream from the headspring.

tree hallway2

tree hallway4

tree hallway to the river


Views of Otter Spring run.  The last two photos show the confluence of the run with the Suwannee River.

Otter Spring also was good for birds; I saw at least ten species of birds, including many, many egrets (Ardea alba) and ibises (Eudocimus albus).  The egrets and ibises provided great contrast to the brown and green of the vegetation.


An egret fishing in the shallow water of Otter Spring.


A limpkin (Aramus guarauna) with a snail in its mouth.

I thought that this tree looked interesting; it had so many epiphytes that it looked fuzzy.

fuzzy tree

Tree with epiphytes.

Otter Spring had a lot of small fish (shiners, mosquitofish, etc.), but relatively few sunfish and even fewer large fish.  It really was quite shallow.  I did, however, see a golden topminnow (Fundulus chrysotus), which is one of my favorite of Florida’s small fish.


Golden topminnows.  They don’t look like much in the light of this video, but when the light hits them right, there are gold flecks that flash down their sides.  And when they’re breeding, the flecks turn red, as does the tail.  I guess that you have to be able to appreciate the small things in life to appreciate them.


More golden topminnows.  Photos by Missy Gibbs and

I also got some nice footage of golden shiners (Notemigonus crysoleucas).  I guess that it was gold day.


Golden shiners in a landscape of algae.

Otter Spring also boasted the biggest pregnant mosquitofish (Gambusia holbrooki) that I’ve seen in a long time.

fat mosquitofish

A million mosquitofish swimming through the field of view; the fish in the top center is a very pregnant female.  The bubbles all over the algae represent supersaturation; the algae is photosynthesizing faster than the water can absorb the oxygen.  This situation happens when algae is really abundant (often under conditions of high nutrients).





Hart Springs, Gilchrist County, March 2017

Hart Springs is very different from both Fanning and Manatee Springs, even though it’s just upstream from both.  Although its discharge is comparable to that of Fanning, it has several noticeable differences.  First, Hart Springs is a county park rather than a state park.  It appears that many private/county parks have less tree cover around the boil and that they are more likely to have cement reinforcement along the edge than most state parks.


Second, apparently Hart Springs is one of those unique Suwannee springs that reverses flow so that brown Suwannee water occasionally comes out of the vent.  I was told when I arrived that the water had just cleared up.  I also read that the discharge of Hart Springs had been restored by divers who removed some debris that had fallen into the main vent (  I’m not sure if the higher stage (as evidenced by the water over the “island”) was a function of the increase in discharge or just seasonal variability.  Apparently, the spring is often much clearer than the day that I visited.


Third, it does not appear to have the massive vents that the other two springs have.  Instead, it has at least three vents, and perhaps a fourth that was not flowing (there was a side arm that looked like it might have a spring in it).  However, given the murky water, it may be that the middle vent really is as big as Fanning or Manatee, but I just couldn’t see it well enough.

This video really stinks because the water clarity was so low, but this vent appeared to be the biggest of the three.  I also managed to knock the camera off kilter and get the leash in view.  It was rainy and cold–oh well!

This video also stinks because I couldn’t see what I was videoing, so view isn’t great, but this is the smaller vent next to the large one.  It was the vent nearest to the entrance to the park.

I only found this vent because the surface of the water was disturbed.  Again, the view isn’t great because I couldn’t see!

I liked the run; it was longer and more intimate than either Manatee or Fanning.


The Hart Spring run in the rain.

Hart Spring had a much smaller entrance into the river than Manatee or Fanning, even though it had similar discharge to Fanning (75 cfs, according to Scott et al. 2004, “Springs of Florida”).

springs mouth color

Given that it’s in a similar landscape to Fanning, I had assumed that the nutrient concentrations of Hart would be similar to Fanning, but the nitrate concentration of Hart was quite a bit lower (1.1 mg/L for Hart as opposed to 3.7 mg/L for Fanning according to Scott et al. 2004, “Springs of Florida”), at least in 2004.  The phosphorus concentrations were similar and fairly high (~0.07 mg/L according to Scott et al. 2004).

hart springs aerial

The fish assemblages of Hart and Fanning were somewhat similar, except that Hart did not have many of the larger fish that I observed in Fanning, with the exception of striped mullet (Mugil cephalus), which seem to be in every spring with a connection to a big river.  In both springs, I saw relatively few large fish (except mullet) and a lot of algae.  There were, however, a million turtles in Hart Spring.

Turtles getting startled by my approaching kayak.

And there were a billion snails.  They appeared to be banded mystery snails (Viviparous geogianus), which are the snails found in the Native American middens.


Banded mystery snails dotting the sediment near the mouth of Hart Spring.

And, surprisingly, given that I never saw them, there were two manatees!  I was stunned when I downloaded the video.  I had paddled out into the river just a tiny bit so that I could test the water temperature and the dissolved oxygen concentration in the river.  As I was paddling back in, apparently, I also startled the manatees.

Manatees swimming out of Hart Spring and back into the brown Suwannee River water.

I also caught another swamp darter (Etheostoma fusiforme) on video.

The swamp darter swims out of the vegetation in the center of the video and lands on a stick at the bottom of the image.  The other fish swimming around are some kind of shiner (Notropis sp.).

Fanning Springs, Levy County, March 2017

Like Manatee Springs, Fanning Springs also had a big, beautiful, blue headspring.


This photo depicts part of the headspring of Fanning Springs (apparently, I didn’t take a vista shot!).  Although this photo only shows part of the boil, it gives an indication of the steep drop to the bottom of the vent.


This underwater shot of the headspring also gives an indication of scale; there are four grey snapper (Lutjanus griseus) circling the vent in the center of the photo.

Fanning Springs also has a little side spring that enters the very, very short run about halfway to the Suwannee River (apparently, the main spring is “Big Fanning”).

side spring

A second spring that contributes to Fanning Springs; the main spring is visible in the background of the photo.

Unlike Manatee Springs, however, the plume of freshwater into the Suwannee River is much smaller, presumably due to the much lower discharge (87 cfs in Fanning vs. 148 cfs in Manatee, according to USGS,  The river also did not seem as massive at Fanning Springs, even though I was only a relatively small distance upstream from Manatee Springs.


The Suwannee River at the point where Fanning Springs enters.

Fanning Springs, like Manatee Springs, had a substantial biomass of algae when I visited it, although the algae appeared much less thick at Fanning than at Manatee.  Interestingly, Fanning Springs appeared to be even more in the thick of agriculture than Manatee Springs, although I don’t know the flow of groundwater beneath these two springs.  In 2004, Fanning Springs had nutrient concentrations that reflected this type of land use (nitrate = 3.7 mg/L and phosphate = 0.07 mg/L, Scott et al. 2004, “Springs of Florida”, FGS Bulletin 66).  By 2010, apparently the nitrate concentrations were even higher; Harrington et al. (2010) reported a nitrate concentration of 5.2 mg/L for Fanning Springs in the “Florida Springs Initiative Monitoring Network Report and Recognized Sources of Nitrate” published by Florida Department of Environmental Protection.  This report also indicated that the source of the nutrient enrichment was a combination of fertilizer from row crops and animal waste.

fanning aerial

Google Earth image showing the area around Fanning Springs.  Manatee Springs is south of Fanning Springs, just west of the big circular fields.

As has been the case at other springs with restrictions on boating in the headspring, the staff at Fanning Springs State Park generously let me paddle through it, although it was a challenge to get down there and a challenge to go between the headspring and the very, very short run.

The long, windy path had several turns with narrower radii than my kayak and, yes, I actually went under that bridge…

Like Manatee Springs, Fanning Springs had a lot of bluefin killifish (Lucania goodei), shiners (Notropis sp.), and bowfin (Amia calva), but it also had my two most exciting find of the project so far (at least if you’re a biology nerd)…

A pygmy sunfish in breeding color (Elassoma sp.).  He really seems to “like” the camera.

A pair of mating swamp darters (Etheostoma fusiforme).  In the longer video, after they mate, a bunch of shiners (Notropis sp.) swoop in and appear to be eating the eggs out of that patch of algae.

For anyone who likes little turtles, I also caught this little loggerhead musk turtle (Sternotherus minor) on the edge of the headspring:

Manatee Springs, Levy County, March 2017

Manatee Springs felt like the first of several monster boils that I visited on the Suwannee River.  The blue of its vent was truly awe-inspiring.


An underwater view of the Manatee Springs vent; the swimmer gives a scale perspective on the size of the vent.

Being from the eastern part of central Florida, I had not truly appreciated the number of sizable springs on the Suwannee and Santa Fe rivers before starting this project.  Not only are there many more springs in parks on these two rivers than on the St. Johns, but there are many, many, many tiny springs, some even in the rivers themselves.

lower suwannee springs map

Map of major (and some smaller) springs of the lower Suwannee River.

The area to the west of Manatee Springs appears to be largely preserved, but to the east, most of the land appears to be in agriculture and, perhaps as a result, the springs support a remarkable density of algae.  The nitrate concentration for Manatee Springs appears to be quite high (2.1 mg/L), although the phosphate concentration is low (0.03 mg/L).  Often phosphate is a limiting nutrient, so that the ratio of nitrate to phosphate is as important as the absolute concentrations of the nutrients.  With a phosphate concentration that low, I’m a little surprised that the algae was as thick as it was.

manatee springs aerial

Aerial view of the landscape around Manatee Springs.


Algae in the vicinity of the headspring of Manatee Springs.

The run of Manatee Springs is quite short (this photo shows about the half of the run) and the Suwannee feels quite large at the point where Manatee enters the river.


The run of Manatee Springs.

mouth of manatee

The Suwannee River where Manatee Springs enters; the trees on the right of the photo are on the bank of the Manatee run.

Although the Suwannee River is quite large at Manatee Springs, the spring produces quite a large plume of clear, freshwater that penetrates into the river due to its high discharge (~150 cfs).  There were a bunch of exotic grass carp (Ctenopharyngodon idella) hanging around in this plume; it was an impressive biomass of fish.  There also were loads of mullet (Mugil cephalus), but they were everywhere.

The grass carp in the freshwater plume from Manatee Springs; apparently, I scared them off into the brown water of the river.

Manatee Springs had a larger proportion of small fish, like bluefin killifish (Lucania goodei) and shiners (Notropis sp.), and a lower proportion of sunfish than the springs that I had visited previously.  I also saw a number of bowfin (Amia calva), which I have only seen rarely at Volusia Blue Spring and I had not seen in any of the other videos so far.

A bowfin coming out of the gloom to menace unsuspecting small fish.  Alas, it didn’t eat one; that would have been exciting.

Bowfin often hide in algae; can you find the one in this photo?  (My kids and I used to love to do those kinds of books when they were small.)


Rock Springs, Orange County, February 2017

Rock Springs in the winter is my favorite of my local springs (don’t tell Volusia Blue that).  The water streams out of a cave into a narrow run filled with rocks (hence the name).


The cave that is the headspring of Rock Springs run.


The rocks just outside the cave.

upper run2

The start of the run.

rocky run

The rocks over which the water passes as it travels down the run.  These rocks are real shin-bruisers.

side spring

One of the many other small springs that contribute to Rock Springs flow.

Long ago, the run was widened about halfway down the park’s portion of the run (the total length of the run is ~8.5 miles long) to produce a pool for recreation. A small “beach” also was added for kids.


The “pool” of Kelly Park.  The slight disturbance in the water is an otter.

The run below the pool is very sandy (no rocks) with eelgrass lining either side of the main flow.  The vegetation on either bank is quite lush.


Rock Springs run below the pool.  The ramp where tubers and swimmers exit is visible on the right.

The run immediately downstream of the end of the park appears even more lush.


Rock Springs run below the park.

And, yes, it was raining (and that is my camera on its tripod recording fish).


This trip was particularly fun because I had the company of three otters (and virtually no people again).  The otters were roaming, hunting, and periodically calling out to each other.


These two otters were chirping to each other on the edge of the pool.  They were swimming all around the pool and I didn’t realize that I captured one on video until I downloaded it.

An otter swimming through the pool.

In this clip, the otter scares some sunfish into view before it swims through itself.  It is carrying a fish in its mouth.

The otter in this clip is the same otter (I think) coming back through the same area.  It snuffled through the sediment on its way through, probably looking for invertebrates (maybe crayfish?).

Probably the main reason that Rock Springs is my favorite in the area is the beauty of cave and run and the narrowness of the run, which makes the flow quite fast.  The discharge is much lower (mean =  57 cfs) than a first magnitude spring, like Blue Spring (historic mean = 157 cfs), but the flow is faster because the water is forced through a smaller cross-sectional area (this phenomenon is called the Bernoulli effect).

However, I also love this spring because (if you ignore the pool area) it appears to be quite pristine.  Interestingly, it appears much more pristine than its sister spring, Wekiwa Spring, which is in a more densely developed area, yet still relatively close as the crow flies.

kelly park aerial

Despite my preconception of it as a relatively pristine spring, Rock Springs is not low nutrient.  Its nitrate concentration (mean = 1400 microg/L) positions it in the upper range of mesotrophic (moderate nutrient) or the lower range of eutrophic (high nutrient), whereas it phosphate concentration (80 microg/L) plants it firmly in the range of eutrophic.  Wekiwa Springs, on the other hand, has very slightly lower nitrate concentration (1200 microg/L) and higher phosphate concentration (140 microg/L).  Dissolved oxygen at Rock Springs was slightly lower than Wekiwa Springs at most stations at which I measured it (I tried to select comparable distances downstream for each station).  And, yet, Wekiwa Springs had loads of sediment and Rock Springs did not.  In areas with nitrate enrichment, phosphorus often is a limiting nutrient, so the ratio of the two nutrients is important.  Perhaps the lower ratio at Wekiwa (relatively more phosphorus than at Rock) is the culprit for the loads of sediment, but I am not so sure that it is that simple.

Given the abundant eelgrass and my memory of sampling Rock Springs by seine around 2000, I expected lots of small fish.  I definitely captured fish in my videos, but not as many as I expected.  However, I did capture some that I did not expect, like the shad in the video below (probably Dorosoma petenense), and a brook silverside (Labidesthes sicculus) in breeding color (not a good video, alas).

A shad cruising through the pool.

Sunfish at Rock Spring also like cameras.

Spotted (Lepomis punctatus) and redbreast (Lepomis auritus) sunfish checking out the camera.  (Guess which ones are the redbreast)

I also saw some nice turtles, like these two that look like they are facing of  (but undoubtedly are not ).


A snapping turtle (Chelydra serpentina) and a cooter of some sort (Pseudemys sp.) in the pool.

Ichetucknee Springs, Columbia County, February 2017

I was prepared for Ichetucknee Springs to be cool, but it was much, much better than I anticipated.  Ichetucknee Springs is embedded in a heavily agricultural area northwest of Gainesville and it is heavily used by tubers in summer, but it appeared to be the most pristine of the springs that I have visited so far.

ichetucknee aerial

Google Earth image of Ichetucknee Springs, which starts at the north end of the squiggly green line of the aerial photo, rather than at the marker, and ends at the Santa Fe River.

The spring system starts as a moderate-sized boil that discharges approximately 50 cfs.  This discharge is about 1/3 of the long-term average of my home spring, Volusia Blue.


The Ichetucknee Springs boil at sunset.

As the water leaves the headspring, the run is constrained into a relatively narrow, sandy, eelgrass-dominated waterway that expands as several other springs contribute flow.

run from boil

The run as it leaves the boil.  The bottom is covered, to a large degree, in eelgrass.  The green of the vegetation along the bank was a stark, and lovely, contrast to the winter’s leafless brown trees in the background.

However, as the run travels south, several other springs add flow, and from what I’ve been told, nutrients.  Blue Hole, which is a fairly short walk (down a boardwalk) or paddle downstream, contributes another 100 cfs to the flow.  Mission Spring, Devil’s Eye, and perhaps other springs also add flow until the discharge downstream is over 300 cfs.

run midway

The run just before Blue Hole adds its flow.


Blue Hole at dusk.

mission spring

Mission Spring.  The short run for this spring supported a lot of algae, so it may a fair load of add nutrients as well.


Devil’s Eye on the Ichetucknee (names for springs with devil or devil’s eye seem popular).

run midway2

The much broader run after the other springs add their flow to the flow from the headspring.

I was surprised at the change in the tree cover downstream.  Upstream the banks of the run were dominated by broadleaf trees (like oaks), but as I moved downstream, closer to the takeout point for the tubers, the forest along the bank changed to a cypress hall with an occasional red maple mixed in.

run downstream

Cypress trees with a band of green grass at the water’s edge.

red maple

A red maple covered with its red seeds.

One of the interesting things about this spring, besides its beauty, is that it supports a remarkable diversity of fish.  I was unable to use my kayak in the headspring, but while swimming, I observed 11 different species of fish, which is more than I have observed at any one location in any of the other springs that I have visited so far.  I calculated the average number of fish species caught in my stationary videos for each spring and Ichetucknee also wins in that metric (6.9 species for Ichetucknee vs. 4.4 for Rainbow).  Thinking about the abundant and diverse fish, I looked up the water quality.  The nitrate concentration of Ichetucknee’s headspring is approximately 800 microg/L, which places the spring firmly in the mesotrophic category (means moderate nutrients).  The concentration for Blue Hole is slightly higher, but similar (825 microg/L).  This concentration is comparable to the values for Volusia Blue Spring, but the vegetation and fish diversity were really different at Ichetucknee.  Undoubtedly due to a large part to the abundant eelgrass, the dissolved oxygen concentrations were a bit higher at Ichetucknee (~2 at the headspring), although nowhere near Rainbow Springs (~7 at its headspring).  Conductivity, which is a measure of salts in the water, was fairly low (~300 micromhos cm-1).

I was really impressed by the number of large, healthy-looking bass in this spring.  Blue Hole, in particular, was loaded with them.


This photo isn’t great, but those bass in the photo are a small fraction of the total number at Blue Hole.  This photo also gives an idea of why it’s called “Blue Hole”.

The number of lake chubsuckers (Erimyzon sucetta) also was impressive.  About the a third of the larger fish that I observed was a chubsucker.


Lake chubsucker.  Apparently, there are either a million in Texas or Texan really like them because almost every photo that I could find was from Texas.


The larger fish in this photo is a chubsucker. The smaller is a species of sunfish, but they often are hard to identify from a distance.

I also managed to catch America eels (Anguilla rostrata) and needlefish (Strongylura marina) on video.  I did not even realize that they were in front of me as I was paddling downstream, but the camera caught them.

Eels right under the surface of the water.

Needlefish in a similar position.

There also were many, many bluefish killifish (Lucania goodei), bravely defending their territories.

Bluefin killifish in breeding color (orange and blue fins).

And, of course, there were many turtles as well, some of which were quite large.


Turtles (Pseudomys sp.)basking in the sun.

Ginnie Springs, Gilchrist County, February 2017

Ginnie Springs is an amazing place and very different from the other springs of Florida.  Of course, they each have their own “personality”, so to speak, but Ginnie Springs is really, really different.


Ginnie Springs is due west of High Springs in an agricultural landscape.  The park, which is privately owned and run for divers to a large degree, consists of five springs on the Santa Fe River. There are more springs along the Santa Fe, but only the five in the park.


Each spring has a small headspring (or in the case of Devil’s Spring, two vents) with a really, really short run, on the order of tens of meters.  Like Green Spring in Volusia County, the headsprings are so small that they do not show up on Google Earth due to the tree cover.  They are on the southwest side of the river.



I was at Ginnie Springs in the winter and during the week.  There was literally almost no one there.  With the exception of underwater divers at Devil’s Spring, there was no one in the water with me and I saw few people in the park.  I gather that the picture is very different during warmer seasons and on the weekend.  However, for me, visiting Ginnie Springs was like a religious experience.  The woman at the office/store suggested that I work my way upstream, so I put into the Santa Fe off the bank, sliding over some cypress roots and paddled over to the first spring (Deer Spring).


My entry point.

My first thought as I entered the water was that the Santa Fe looks totally different than the St. Johns.  I did not expect them to be the same, but the difference still was dramatic.  I think that part of the difference might be the openness of the forest; the St. Johns has so much understory vegetation, like palmettos, that the forest looks much more dense and dark on its banks.

Santa Fe River

The bank of the Santa Fe.

The spring runs are so short that for each of the springs except Dogwood, you can see the headspring as soon as you reach its mouth.  Dogwood is not much longer, but the run makes an almost 90 degree curve.  Most of the day was overcast, so the colors are muted in many of the photos and, alas, do not do the place justice.


Looking up at Deer Spring from its mouth to the river.  The stairs to enter the headspring are visible on the left side of the water.

The transition between river to spring below water looks much more dramatic than above water.

The Santa Fe river water is tannic (brown), but it is displaced by the clear spring water pouring out, which looks blue.  I have not changed colors on the film, although the camera does adjust the colors a little.  However, it really looks like this.

This video shows a view of the Deer Spring vent.  A couple of sunfish come out of the vent.  Although overall there were relatively few fish in the any of the springs, the video of this spring picked up the most fish, a bunch of bluefin killifish (Lucania goodei), some mosquitofish (Gambusia holbrooki), various sunfish (Lepomis sp.), bass (Micropterus salmoides), and some mullet (Mugil cephalus).

After spending a lovely half an hour or so with Deer Spring, I drifted down its run, out into the Santa Fe again, and paddled upstream to Twin Spring.


Although I preferred the view from the water, this photo of Twin Spring nicely shows the vent in the center of the spring.

This vent for Twin Spring is like a crack in the earth.

It was so incredibly peaceful there.  Amazingly, I didn’t even see that many fish; it was just geological formations and me.

Dogwood Spring curved from its mouth to its boil, so getting to the boil was like a little surprise.  It was also the most pastoral, to me, of the five springs.

dogwood spring2

The “run” of Dogwood Spring.  The bottom is visible because it’s so shallow.

The boil of Dogwood Spring was like a crack in a swimming pool, the spring run was so flat and uniform.  Notice the sunfish in the vent; most of the vents had a couple of sunfish in them, it seemed.

Sadly leaving Dogwood (so peaceful!), I went back out in to the river and paddled a bit farther up to Ginnie Spring, the spring for which the system is named.

Ginnie spring boil2

The spring vent was much larger for Ginnie Spring; the whole light blue area in the photo is the vent.  Although it’s not obvious from this photo, this spring is the most developed for divers.  To the left, out of the field of view, there were bigger staircases than in the other springs and gear for recreating.

With the big expanse of white sand in Ginnie Spring boil, it kind of reminds me of flying over a snowy mountainous landscape–except for the sunfish and the ripples, of course.  Even if it was a bit more developed, it was really lovely, particularly when I was alone!

I drifted back out of Ginnie for my last paddle up the Santa Fe.  I had seen beautiful photos of Devil’s Eye, so I was looking forward to it.

devil's spring2

The light was starting to get low as I entered the Devil’s Spring system.  This photo is looking up at the main vent.

I took a slow pass around the main vent to get a good view.

Devil's eye

This photo is of the Devil’s Eye from above; it is right near the mouth of the spring run.

And a video of the vent..

Apparently, one of the divers passed by while the camera was on the tripod and I didn’t even see him.

I don’t know what the cave system looks like, but it must go laterally somewhat because bubbles were coming up a short distance from the vent.

devil's eye bubbles from divers

Bubbles rising from the cave below, presumably.  The vent is off the lower left corner out of the photo.

And then, sadly, I was done at Ginnie Spring.  I’m so glad that I was able to experience it on a day when there was almost no one there.

Wekiwa Springs, Seminole County, February 2017

Each time that I go to a spring, whether one that I have visited previously or one new to me, I have had a shift in perspective about Florida springs.  I had been to Wekiwa Springs before, but not while working, so I was looking at it with different eyes.  Wekiwa Springs is an urban spring; it is only about 5-10 minutes off of I-4 west of Altamonte and Longwood.  It is on the south end of a preserve that includes both its own state park land and Rock Springs Run Preserve.


Map of landscape around Wekiwa Springs. Rock Spring starts about halfway up the west side of the green space.  Wekiwa Springs has a short run (less than 1 mile) and it is joined by the much longer Rock Springs (8.5 miles) to become the Wekiva River, which flows north to join the St. Johns River west of Debary.

The run begins with a springhead that was developed for swimming; the wall around the springhead is visible from the satellite photo on the left side of the photo. Looking (very) closely, Rock Spring run enters just before the slight curve to the north.  The large structure on the right of the photo is “Wekiva Island”.



The springhead is wide and sandy, with a rocky “boil” from which the water pours forth.  There also are a few rocks strewn around this swimming area; I was surprised to discover that one of these rocks was covered not just with algae, but hundreds of tiny fish.  Looking closely, some are golden or brownish; those fish are rainwater killifish (Lucania parva).  Mixed in are a few bluefin killifish (Lucania goodei), which have a black lateral stripe, and some mosquitofish (Gambusia holbrooki), which just appear silvery.  The silvery sheen on the rock is a coating of bubbles that indicate that the water is supersaturated with oxygen on the surface of the rock.  The algae are producing oxygen faster than the water can absorb it and the oxygen forms bubbles.  At this point, it is not clear whether the fish are attracted to the oxygen or invertebrates that are likely in the algae or a combination of both.  There also are fish attacking a blob of algae floating off to the right in the photo.


Interestingly, the headspring of Wekiwa is apparently rainwater killifish heaven.  I don’t think that I have ever seen quite so many in one place, although there are a lot at Volusia Blue Spring as well.  They seem to be attracted to wide sandy stretches of substrate with relatively little slope.


While swimming around, rainwater killifish can appear blotchy brown and tan if they are over a mottled substrate (like leaves or leaves and sand or algae) or they can appear almost white if they are over light sand only.  However, males turn a beautiful gold with red highlights on the fins when breeding.  Photo by Missy Gibbs.


Obviously, this species is a congener of the rainwater killifish and it has virtually the same shape and size, but a different color pattern and slightly different behavior.  Where rainwater killifish are typically benthic, bluefin killifish may be found on the substrate or midwater, swimming among plants and algae.  This species was once called redfin killifish and this photo would appear to support that name.  However, the fins of the males change color from the usual tan to red, blue, or red and blue (some individuals might have one color on the dorsal fin and another on the tail).  These fish do not change color like their congeners, the rainwaters.  Photo by Missy Gibbs.

The discharge of this spring is moderate (67 cfs on average according to SJRWMD on and it has what appeared to me to be a relatively concentration of small suspended material, creating a somewhat murky effect on the day that I visited.


The boil of Wekiwa Springs.

The headspring also produces a fair amount of algae.  According to SJRWMD (, the nitrate concentration is high (1.21 mg/L), as it the phosphorus concentration (0.14 mg/L), and the dissolved oxygen is low (I measured 0.19 mg/L at the boil).  Interestingly, the nitrate concentration has declined quite a bit since the mid-1990s, although the phosphorus concentration has stayed about the same and measures of salinity have increased (total dissolved solids, chloride, sulfate), perhaps with a slight decrease in discharge.


An algae covered log at the headspring.  The columns of algae remind me of a cityscape in outline.  Oxygen produced by photosynthesis gets trapped in the algae, causing it to pull the algae up into the column shape.  When the column gets tall enough, it becomes unstable and bits break off of the top, producing the floating material in the photo.

As the water leaves the headspring area, it passes under a bridge.  Perhaps the presence of the bridge has allowed accumulation of sand under it, but regardless of the cause, the water is a little shallower there and, as a result, fast moving (the increase in flow rate of water moving through a smaller cross-sectional area is called the Bernoulli effect).  It seemed as thought that staying in that spot required a lot of energy from the fish, so they must have been getting something from it.

All of the fish on the surface of this video are mosquitofish, but the fish on the substrate are a mixture of rainwater killifish in breeding color (gold) and regular color (brown and tan) and of bluefin killifish (black stripe).

After leaving the headspring, a short stretch of the run leads to “the pond”, which is a wider and deeper spot in the run.  At the start of the pond, I could see many tilapia (Oreochromis aureus) streaking out of their nests as I approached (I counted 28 from my video, although no doubt the number was much higher given the poor visibility and the small sample of the area).

The brown hole at the beginning of the video is likely one of last year’s tilapia nests.  The poof in the fluffy substrate is the first tilapia freaking out and taking off as I approach.  The sandy circles are current tilapia nests that are being guarded by the large silvery fish behind them (they move off the nests as I approach and come right back).  The fluffy substrate is silt produced from the breakdown of organic material, like algae.  Excuse the black cord running through the video; I didn’t realize that the camera’s leash had gone in front of the lens while I was paddling, alas.

There were also a lot of other fish at the upstream end of “the pond”, swimming among the spadderdock (Nuphar luteum) stems.

In the video, there are mosquitofish surfing at the surface and shiners (Notropis sp.) milling in the background.  A dollar sunfish (Lepomis marginatus) with pretty operculum rays (the shiny stripes on behind the eye) chases a spotted sunfish (Lepomis punctatus) into the frame.  Notice all the silt floating through the frame; it almost appears to be snowing.

The large fish that swim into this video are seminole killifish (Fundulus seminolis), the largest of the killifish in Florida (the only larger killifish is the aptly named Northern studfish, Fundulis catenatus)

The run narrows again after “the pond” and it is a lovely paddle down a tree-lined water hallway.  I was really enjoying the reflections of the trees on the water.




However, when I looked down into the water, the substrate was brown to a large degree, due to a combination of algae and silt.  Getting out of the boat was treacherous because I sank up to my knee in the silt.


Healthy eelgrass (Vallinseria americana) and a large-leaved plant (still working on that one) poking out of the silt-covered substrate.  I took this photo downstream, near the confluence with Rock Spring run where water clarity cleared up a bit.  The eelgrass was much more covered in algae and silt upstream.  Interestingly, given how close the two springs are, Rock Spring run has a much higher oxygen concentration (~8 mg/L for Rock Spring vs. 4.5 mg/L for Wekiwa Spring just above the confluence of the two) and clearer substrate.

And, yet, there were fish.  Not as many as I had seen at Rainbow Springs, perhaps, and the bass that I did see looked a lot thinner than those at Rainbow Springs, but there were fish.  And, given the turbidity of the water, there were undoubtedly a lot more fish than I saw.  In fact, the average number of species (not individuals) that I observed per video was only slightly lower for Wekiwa than for Rainbow (4.0 vs. 4.3), although the composition of the assemblage was a little different.

Most of the fish in this video are some type of shiner; they look like ironcolor shiners (Notropis chalybaeus) to me, but I would have to hold one to be sure.  Occasionally, a bluefin killifish wanders into the frame.

There also were turtles, alligators, and lots of birds…



I saw many cooter-type turtles (Pseudomys sp.) basking along the run and, while waiting for my camera, I saw this snapping turtle (Chelydra serptentina) ambling along the bottom.  I also saw several loggerhead musk turtles (Sternotherus minor) up the headspring, although I managed to get no photos of them.  Alas, I also did not get a photo of the soft-shelled turtle (Apalone ferox) that had buried itself on the edge of the canoe launch (seems like a terrible place to bury oneself), although I did see it briefly when it came up for air.


I think that the alligator looks almost purple in this photo.


Gemini Springs, Volusia County, January 2017

Like many springs in Florida, Gemini Springs was developed as a swimming hole decades ago.  A cement wall dams the flow a short way down the run, creating a shallow reservoir that was previously used for swimming.  However, in 2000, concerns about fecal coliform bacteria led to closure of the springs to swimming.  Since that time, Gemini Springs Park has been used for its aesthetics, for fishing below the dam, and for terrestrial recreation (playground, dog park, etc.).

Gemini Springs is a pair of springs that together release 6.5 million gallons per day (10 cfs) to a spring run that eventually flows into a “lagoon” and into Lake Monroe.  Originally, there was a third “spring” that was actually a well, according to the St. Johns River Water Management District (, but the well was abandoned and I think that it no longer flows.


The other two springs are small in diameter and the force of the water leaving these springs makes them appear as true boils.  Only one of these springs really has a run, which is quite shallow and sandy; the other spring is adjacent to the first one’s run.  Because the runs are so shallow, the flow rate is quite high and it was pretty challenging to seine where the flow was highest.


The boil of spring 1–the area that looks smoother and slightly milky to the right is where the water boils up.


The run of spring 1 with Missy Gibbs on the bridge doing our “interpretation” for passersby.  Spring 2 is adjacent to the run, just past the bridge.


A portion of the sandy run of spring 1 with the adjacent spring 2 in the background of the photo.  The milky area is the boil of spring 2.  The banks are highly eroded, although this condition appears to be natural.

The sandy area run of spring 1 is firm and, other than the high flow rate and the snags, relatively easy to seine.  It was more challenging in the reservoir due to silt on the bottom and tilapia nests dotting the substrate.  Nitrate and phosphate concentrations in this spring, like many in Florida, are relatively high (nitrate = 1.04 mg L-1, phosphate = 0.06 mg L-1,  The relatively high nutrient concentrations, which were comparable to those of Volusia Blue Spring, likely contribute to the silt production on the bottom of the run.  Interestingly, the conductivity of Gemini Springs also was somewhat high (2300 microS cm-1); perhaps ancient sea water contributes to its flow, as is the case of its neighbor Volusia Blue (Toth and Katz 2006).


Seining in the reservoir with Adam Freeman.

Not surprisingly, we got only mosquitofish (Gambusia holbrooki) in the boil of spring 1; we measured the lowest oxygen there (0.47 mg L-1).  Oddly, the fish actually were swimming right over the boil rather than along the edges.  The dissolved oxygen was a little higher in the run of spring 1 (0.64 mg L-1) and we caught a greater diversity of fish: sailfin mollies (Poecilia latipinna), bluefin killifish (Lucania goodei), rainwater killifish (Lucania parva), least killifish (Heterandria formosa), a bluegill sunfish (Lepomis macrochirus), and lots of freshwater shrimp!.  The dissolved oxygen was quite a bit higher as the spring entered the reservoir (1.6 mg L-1) and in the reservoir itself (3.1 mg L-1), although still quite low.  Here, we caught a Seminole killifish in addition to the other fish mentioned above.  Although we did not catch them, we observed larger bluegill sunfish and the exotic tilapia (Oreochromis aureus).  We also saw evidence (feces) of Pterygoplichthys disjunctivus, the exotic sailfin suckermouth catfish from the Amazon that Missy Gibbs has studied extensively in Volusia Blue Spring.

Green Spring, Volusia County, January 2017

There are so many interesting and funky places in Florida.  Green Spring is like a little emerald in the forest on the northern edge of Lake Monroe.  Unlike most springs in Florida, it has high concentrations of sulfur that produce a hard-to-miss aroma and milky green water.  It is so small and tucked away in the trees that it is impossible to see on Google Earth, no matter how magnified.


Despite the color, aroma, and almost non-existent dissolved oxygen concentrations, it hosts a huge number of sailfin mollies and mosquitofish, two of the most tolerant and abundant fish in Florida.  Both fish have flat heads that allow them to breathe at the air-water interface, or the thin layer of water right at the surface.  In many Florida water bodies that either are fed by groundwater or are stagnant, this layer of water has more dissolved oxygen than the water below it.

A female mosquitofish (Gambusia holbrooki) is depicted in the left image and a male sailfin molly (Poecilia latipinna) is depicted in the right image–photos by Missy Gibbs.  The mouth of each fish is only slightly below the peak of the dorsal side of the fish, allowing it to cruise around just below the surface of the water.

Danielle Palow was my field assistant for the morning.  After a quick seine or two in the springhead area to establish that, yes, in fact, all of those fish that look like mosquitofish and mollies really are mosquitofish and mollies, we sampled the little creek into which Green Spring flows.  I have not yet found the source of the creek, but it flows past the spring and into Lake Monroe.  The water is somewhat tannic (brown) and, on the day that we sampled, the dissolved oxygen in the creek above the outflow of Green Spring was 8 mg L-1.  However, the dissolved oxygen dropped to 3.8 mg L-1 as soon as the spring water, which has an oxygen concentration of 0.3 mg L-1, entered.  We measured a more respectable oxygen concentration of 4.9 mg L-1 as the creek approached the lake.  To sample fish, we used a seine as a block net across the run.  Then I went upstream 50 m or so and tried to scare fish with a dip net so that they would swim downstream into the block net.  We repeated this method six times, working our way towards Lake Monroe.  It is a very small run (the entire run looks like the photo below), so I do not think that we missed huge numbers of fish.  However, we only caught one bluegill (Lepomis macrochirus) and a few mosquitofish with this method.  Happily, I did catch a few damselfly larvae and one dragonfly larva and, not as happily, I found a monster Malaysian trumpet snail.