Three Sisters Springs: First Day Open After Restoration

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Those of us who treasure Three Sisters Springs in Crystal River, Florida, were excited to see the springs re-open on November 15, 2016. It has been 7-1/2 months of construction by the Southwest Florida Water Management District and their contractors. Three Sisters Springs has been closed to the public and manatees the whole summer. Here are some of the pictures I took and observations during my first manatee day this season in the springs.

My First Manatee in Three Sisters Springs Right After it Opened After 7 Months of Shoreline Restoration! Because of Our Enormous Super Moon Tides, Wind and Other Factors, Visibility Wasn’t the Best, But These are Some of My Better Photos from November 15th.  ***(Note: because my computer is in for repair I downloaded these RAW photographs and edited these exclusively on my iPad. It was a very interesting learning experience, although I miss the color accuracy of my calibrated monitor, it’s a good on-the-go workflow).

Mixed feelings, that is what I have after spending three hours underwater back in Three Sisters Springs on opening day, November 15th. I understand experts from the Southwest Florida Water Management District and others felt the need to drastically reshape and stabilize the shoreline surrounding the springs and I respect all scientists who had input on this project. I have included a video from Southwest Florida Water Management District that explains the shore stabilization.

As with many projects there are two sides to this, including some liabilities. Many incredibly beautiful cypress trees were lost and replaced with large boulders and gravel. Additionally, small bubbling freshwater spring pools were silted over by the huge construction. The remains of a line of historic Cousteau wooden posts – remnants of a project by the Cousteau Team in 1971 to study a stranded manatee named “Sewer Sam” – were buried in silt from the recent construction or permanently knocked down. I’ve observed manatees navigating by the Cousteau posts for many years and the fish and critter habitat created by the submerged cypress tree roots was lovely and prolific. Yes some silt was stirred up by manatees and various other sources, but today after the restoration, gravel dust particles and burlap soil bags that are already becoming exposed are sources of new clogging particles. So it is still a “restoration in progress” I believe. I am not against the project, but I do question whether it was implemented in the correct way? Time will tell on this point I believe? I speak from having spent over 1300 hours on snorkel, submerged at Three Sisters Springs over many years and observing first-hand. I am not an expert like the knowledgeable people at Southwest Florida Water Management District and the Springs Team. But I am a Florida Master Naturalist who has studied manatees and the springs for years. So from a sheer number-of-hours observing closeup underwater, I do have an opinion based on knowledge and on-site observation. I want to help so I’m sending pictures along with my observations to the proper people.

The springs are OPEN! There is still some magic visible as Three Sisters Springs is such a magical place. You should come and see for yourself! We will see this season how the manatees interact with the changed landscape of the springs and how the springs recover and repair themselves, naturally, over this manatee season.

After Leaving the Spring Run, Manatees Turn Right if They Intend To Enter Pretty Sister Spring. This is What the Shoreline Looks Like as of November 15th. It Used To Be Lovely Cypress Tree Roots the Manatees Would Navigate By. It is Good There Are a Few Trees Left. There Was Some Care Administered and it’s Evident. Although Now Manatees Will Navigate By Boulders and Gravel.

The Large Clump of Cypress Tree Roots Manatees Used to Navigate By on the Way to Pretty Sister Spring are Now Replaced with These Boulders and Gravel to Stabilize the Shoreline.

The Corner That Turns Right to Pretty Sister Spring. Closed Now to Underwater Access, But OPEN for Manatees to Bask in the Springs.

Back in the Spring Run Channel Looking In Towards the Spring Entrances. Note the Shoreline is Now Boulders and Gravel Instead of Vegetation and Tree Roots. Hopefully Underwater Plants Will Fill In and Attract Fish Again. In the Three Hours I was Swimming in the Springs I Saw None of the Florida Large-Mouth Bass that Usually Inhabit Three Sisters.

In the Back of the Springs is the Closed-off Manatee Sanctuary of Little Sister Spring. Most of the Cypress Trees Were Removed From this Area and Replaced with Boulders and Gravel.

One Sunfish is Here! I Used to See Fifty or More in this Spot and I’m Looking Forward to the Bream Returning When the Habitat Grows Back. If Anyone Remembers My “Manatee Surrounded with Fish” Photograph that was Used as a Cover for Crystal River’s Official Visitor’s Guide and Alert Diver – the Photograph was Taken When this Area was Populated with Cypress Trees and Open. Just on the Other Side of that Pole were Thick Cypress Roots and Dozens and Dozens of Fish, Along with the Rather Famous Posing Manatee in February of 2010.

Regardless, Three Sisters Springs is Still Completely Magical! I Believe it Will Recover! I am Optimistic as is Our Captivating Manatee Here! We All LOVE Three Sisters Springs!
See you in the springs! The manatees are waiting! And a big thank-you to all the parties who so deeply care about our treasured Florida springs!

Best, Carol

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