Sunday, November 30, 2014

Another Illusion

Thanks to David, I'm officially on Google maps! While my Illusions exhibit was on display at Santa Fe College last month, David worked his photo magic and made a 360 degree virtual tour of the exhibit that is now publicly viewable on Google.

So if you didn't get a chance to check it out in person, click the photo below to take a 'walk' around!

Also, David and his company Trident Global Imaging have some other amazing photospheres in the springs, including the natural well at Silver Glen and the swim area at Rainbow Spring state park. Check out his google page to explore his awesome work!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Spreading the springs love

November is the forgotten month - it does have Thanksgiving, but it's squished between Halloween and Christmas, and every year, the canned cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie, and cornbread mix display at the grocery store seems to shrink as it's encroached upon by stuffed Santas, Christmas lights, and candy canes. 

I shared this Christmas manatee last year after an awesome early-morning adventure with Bird's Underwater. November is "Manatee Awareness Month," so I'm reminding you with this baby Santa manatee. But don't be fooled (by this or the grocery store displays) - it's still November and Thanksgiving hasn't happened yet... there are still many springs adventures left before Christmas!
Don't get me wrong - I love Christmas and I'm definitely guilty of wishing away the end of November ... Christmasy things become acceptable on December 1st and classes end soon thereafter. But this year, November has been exciting and full of springs! The late fall and early winter months usually mark the beginning of our "spring season" (aka springs-hopping during the non-tourist season), and this November has included the added excitement of my springs photos being shared with the diving community via Scubaba's "Photographer of the Month" series. A huge thank you and shoutout to them and SeaLife Underwater Cameras for sponsoring the series... it has been so much fun to re-live the adventure that goes along with each photo as they share one photo per day through their social media outlets. You can find Scubaba on Facebook, Instagram, g+, and Twitter - check them out to book a dive vacation and/or see 13 more of my springs photos posted for the rest of the month. I hope that this helps, even if it's just a tiny bit, raise awareness about Florida's springs and bring these amazing and threatened ecosystems into people's minds (and hearts) :)

Check out Scubaba's blog for the full interview :)

Thank you so much for the kind words, Scubaba! And thank you for featuring the beautiful springs - I feel lucky to have such gorgeous playgrounds in my backyard. Get out and enjoy the springs, Floridians!!

Sunday, November 2, 2014


Halloween is a time for ghosts, ghouls, scares, and screams, and although I'm easily frightened by guts and gore, the chills I had running down my spine the morning after Halloween were not from fright.

Hours after dozens of trick-or-treaters braved the chilly nighttime temperatures in their little costumes, the windows rattled and the wind whipped through the trees. Maybe the night was haunted, but a better guess is that chillier temperatures and a cold front are finally hitting north Florida. This is the time of year when us 'winter warriors' rise early from under the cozy covers and speed to the springs, only to find we have the entire parking lot to ourselves. When it's 47 and windy, apparently there is no competition for parking spots or a refreshing spring swim...

But winter is the perfect time to take a dip in the steaming water. Yesterday the water temperature was almost 30 degrees warmer than the air, so it's surprising more people don't flock to the springs during the cooler months. We've been waiting all year for this... springs season is just getting started.
Bundled in jackets and sweatpants, we explored a bit above water first, fooling ourselves into thinking it would somehow warm up a few degrees before we submerged. We checked out Catfish Hotel and watched the duckweed slowly swirl at the surface of the sinkhole, creating mesmerizing patterns that we examined like cloud formations in the sky.

Thinking warm thoughts, we finally made the switch, trading cozy clothes for suits (wetsuits or swim suits, depending on who you're talking to in our group...). Touching our toes to the water, it was surprisingly warm compared to the air, but our already-goosbumped skin was not very happy about being wet. But the water was calling, so we took the plunge.

Algae and a lone sunfish shine in the morning sunlight.
The visibility in the spring has significantly decreased since I was here with Harry and a group of open water students 3 months ago. At that time, the spring had just re-emerged from a flood - tannic river water had covered the spring vent and entire basin and cut off sunlight for photosynthesis for long enough to kill off most of the benthic algae. The karst formations were, for a short while, free from flowing green and brown algae. But yesterday the carpet was back and as thick as ever, swirling in the strong flow of the vent below.

As I glided out the spring run, I drifted with long ribbons of algae. The green and brown colors took over, and to add to the eerie feeling, I swear I saw a lion - do you see the face??
Reflections form a ceiling overhead and rays of light illuminate the algae-filled basin and stairs.
It goes without saying that crystal clear water is gorgeous - and I will admit, it's still my favorite - for both aesthetic and ecosystem health-related reasons. But there is also something eerie and beautiful about water that has less-than-perfect visibility. Perhaps it was fitting for the Halloween spirit and also a little reminder that there is often beauty in the breakdown.

Sunlight beams down light spotlights as I gaze into the depths of the spring.
Bass loom in the algae-filled shadows in the shallows along the edges of the spring run.
Looking up or down?
Shivering on the inside and hands frozen to the camera, we made the last minute decision to sprint over to Catfish Hotel. By the time, we reached the sinkhole, the once-warmish water in our wetsuits had turned cold and the wind not-so-subtly reminded us of its presence... but I simply couldn't give up a chance to take photos in the magical, duckweed-covered sinkhole.

From the surface, it almost looks like a grassy field. But once you're under the green, you realize that it's so much more.
Fall in the springs.
Although it looks like a slimy algae from a distance, duckweed is actually a tiny flowering plant - it's not slimy at all! (Although it does get very easily caught in your hair, stuck on your wetsuit, etc.) It is a subfamily (Lemnoideae) of the aroid family (Araceae) - there are several different genera of duckweed found in Florida, but Lemna is one of the most common. A few different species can live together and can be difficult to tell apart - some species that look practically identical to native species are actually invasive in Florida. No matter what species is present, it creates amazing scenery from below the surface as islands of duckweed swirl and migrate at the surface.
Greg playing with his GoPro in the sunlight and duckweed-filled waters. 
Searching for the sky.
Taking the plunge.
Eyeing the exit - has the above water world disappeared?
Morning light.
So don't be afraid to venture beneath the surface - even if it appears to be covered in a thin layer of green. What lies beneath will surprise you and surpass all of your wildest dreams. As you lay cozy in bed on Saturday morning in north Florida, just remember what you now know lies nestled in the woods not far from your doorstep.


If you're interested in a winter springs adventure, Go Native Adventures is hosting "Freedive SpringFest2014" at Troy Spring on December 6 - check out their page for details... I will be the event photographer and am excited to meet many new winter springs-hopping, freediving friends - hope to see you there!