Wakulla Springs is in Trouble
Dark water days had occasionally occurred prior to the establishment of the state park in 1986, but the problem was increasing. In 1992, it became apparent that the clarity of the spring water was too dark to operate the glass bottom boats on a regular basis. In 2010 the glass bottom boats were unable to operate the entire year. It would be impossible to film underwater movies today as in the 1940s-60s.
The invasive aquatic plant Hydrilla was discovered in the spring in 1998. This exotic species along with algae rapidly took over the spring. These plants crowded out the desirable plants, filled the swimming area and changed the ecology of the spring and river. The limpkin, a wading bird with an eerie call, had become a symbol of Wakulla Spring. Wakulla Spring was one of two centers of limpkin populations in Florida in the 1950s. The limpkin disappeared in 2000 because its principle food, the large, native apple snail had disappeared. Other species of birds began to decline as did the fishes and alligators.
The nutrient nitrate was steadily increasing to the point that over 300 tons per year was flowing from the spring. The nitrate is fertilizing the Hydrilla and algae causing the rapid growth of these obnoxious plants. Nitrate comes from a number of human sources including wastewater, septic tanks, livestock and fertilizers applied to lawns, golf courses and pastures. Nitrate is taken up by stormwater and soaks directly into the soil to the aquifer and also flows through sinkholes into the aquifer.
In addition to the problems caused by degradation of water quality, there is concern that the combination of drought and human consumption in the spring basin may reduce spring flow. Reduced flow would impact the Wakulla River and may inhibit manatee access to the spring.