Tips for swimming in Florida springs

Feet up, legs up, fins up and pretend the floor is lava. Those words of wisdom from the Florida Springs Institute are brought to the surface each year to teach springs visitors how to protect native submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV).

With hot temperatures on the horizon, North Central Florida’s cool water springs will draw thousands of locals and visitors from near and far.

Haley Moody, outreach director for the Florida Springs Institute, says it’s time for a refresher on how to enjoy the cool waters without interrupting springs ecosystems.

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According to Moody, the clips that make up the institute’s 60-second long educational video were taken at different times and locations to show a variety of habitats that springs visitors might encounter. She said the SAV not only provides a habitat for a variety of turtles and fish but also keeps the water clean and clear by stabilizing the sediment.

The institute created the video after a snorkeling staff member saw someone run across the vegetation.

“The springs are impacted through human recreation and that shows up when vegetation gets stepped on,” Moody said. “That’s the reason we made this video.”

Moody said one of the beneficial outcomes of the pandemic was reduced activity at springs. Because of that, she and her colleagues have seen a resurgence of SAV at locations such as Blue Springs in Gilchrist County. 

The video has received more than 70,000 views on Facebook in less than a week. It features examples of what to do and what not to do when swimming in springs.

“Take a peek before you step down,” Moody said. “A lot of people are not wearing goggles or a mask, so they don’t know what is down there.

The vegetation such as eelgrass, pennywort, reddish tinted ludwigia and sagittaria are common examples of important species of SAV that line the rivers and springs in Florida.

“It stabilizes the shoreline and sediment and provides habitat and food for fish, manatee, and turtles, so it impacts the food chain.

SAV also releases dissolved oxygen in the water. And water clarity affects everything all the way up the food chain, Moody said.

The video suggests swimmers rest on rocks when they need to take a break, and try to exit any spring via rocks or stairs: “You shouldn’t touch the ground unless you are struggling and using a float will help with that.” 

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