Equinox Documentaries Blog

documentary films which inspire a sense of "place" through stories and images

Heroic child and his dream

Filed under: Latest Updates — Stacey at 2:16 pm on Thursday, August 5, 2010

by Bill Belleville
August 1, 2010

It was 25 years ago when Wes Skiles first led me down the slope of a steep sinkhole somewhere in the rolling karst terrain of north Florida. He knew I was a writer and a diver, and he was doing his best to convince me of the singularity of our aquifer.

At the bottom of the sinkhole was a transparent pool of water, and inside that pool, a fairyland of labyrinthic chambers secretly snaking their way through the soft limestone.

Wes was animated, unaffected. Without the protocol that sometimes constrains scientists, Wes — who didn’t bother with college — seemed intent on two things: allowing his sense of awe and imagination to fully roam; and educating the rest of us to the phenomenon of our springs.

“I’m just a redneck cave diver,” Skiles drawled, with his trademark grin. “If I haven’t been there, I don’t know anything.”

As much as anyone I’ve ever met, Wes was shaped by where he lived — smack in the midst of one of the richest troves of springs in all the world. When he started cave diving at age 16, that sport was still in its infancy, and many spring-cave systems were still being explored. Wes, athletic, savvy, virtually fearless, could have had a great time doing nothing more than logging a bunch of cave dives — of “laying line” into newly discovered tunnels.

But he wanted so much more: He wanted us to feel the magic he had felt. More urgently, he wanted us to know how ephemeral that magic really was. He helped us understand springs didn’t begin where the water bubbles out of the rock, but came to life in distant recharge lands we now know as springsheds. “You can’t protect one and not protect the other,” Wes would say.

Like philosopher Joseph Campbell’s “heroic traveler,” Wes journeyed to exotic and dangerous and distant places. And then, he returned with invaluable information to share with his clan, his community.

Wes became a forthright champion for our rare Florida landscape, producing national documentaries and images illustrating the finite dynamic of our aquifer. And he evoked the very best of what every little kid first feels when unlocking the door to nature’s secrets.

When I try to figure why Wes’ death had such a profound effect on so many, I realize an essential truth. His love for springs was informed — but it was, at the very core, a child’s pure gut fascination for a secret world. It was only natural he would want all the rest of us to see, to believe and to care.

This “redneck cave diver,” this big kid with a cave light and a dive line and a generous, old-fashioned heart, not only wanted to dream big; he wanted to include every single one of us in his dream.

A Gulf Of Uncertainty

Filed under: Florida Stewardship,Latest Updates — admin at 10:02 am on Wednesday, July 7, 2010

by Stacey Matrazzo

Until last weekend, I had never seen a wild sea turtle crawling on the beach. But as I sat on the Atlantic shore last Friday night, digging my toes into the wet sand and watching the brilliant light of a full moon sparkle on the ocean’s surface, I noticed not one, not two, but seven sea turtles emerging from the dark water and lumbering up the beach in search of the perfect place to lay their eggs. They were slow and deliberate, as if inspecting every grain of sand to insure they were in the right place. Unsatisfied with the prospects, six of the turtles turned around halfway up the beach and slowly crept back toward the sea, while the last turtle sought out her sacred space and began to dig her nest.

My joy of watching this scene unfold was overshadowed by the awareness of the disaster taking place in the waters on the other side of our state. I couldn’t help but think how lucky these seven turtles were to be here, and not in the Gulf of Mexico.

In an effort to save the hatchlings along the Gulf shores from an imminent death-by-oil, the US Fish and Wildlife service has recently implemented a plan to dig up and relocate 70,000 sea turtle eggs from the Alabama and northwest Florida coasts to Kennedy Space Center on our east coast. The relocated eggs will be carefully stored in temperature-controlled coolers until the turtles hatch, at which time the hatchlings will be released.

This is a valiant undertaking, with the best intentions — and arguably the best of possible consequences for these endangered hatchlings. Back on the Gulf, they might be coated with crude or eat something tainted by oil and die.

Nonetheless, this “relocation” affects the delicate balance of nature these creatures have participated in for millennia. Most scientists believe that female sea turtles return to their natal beach to lay their eggs. Turtles have a kind of homing device that uses the earth’s magnetic fields for navigation. So what will an egg’s relocation do to that homing device? Will the female who was an egg on the west coast but hatched on the east coast know which beach to go to? Will it matter?

Like all reptiles, the sea turtle gender is determined by temperature. The displaced eggs will be stored in temperature-controlled coolers. Still, we may be predetermining the sex of 70,000 turtles. What ratio are we using and what is that based on? Do we know how many males and how many females nature requires for the health of the species?

I’m not naive enough to think that these and other questions have not been considered by the scientists involved in this mission. But I do know that no matter the science, no matter the statistics or formulas or even the utmost care, these kinds of uncertainties are not for us to decide.

Yet, we’ve created a world where these decisions are being made by us. Like the hatchling relocation project, they are almost always in response to yet another decision we took upon ourselves to deem safe and necessary and right.

We think we know it all when it comes to the natural world. We think we are in control, yet even when the fallacy of this anthropocentric thinking is thrown in our face, we still believe we have the answers. We react, hastily, and then hope for the best.

Sooner or later, this approach will cease to work for us. But what is the answer? Do we have the right to make these decisions? If so, on what basis should we be making them? Should it be ecological? Spiritual? Economic? Political? Should we be making the decisions based short term or long term consequences? Give us your opinion.

Can We Restore the Magic of Our Springs?

Filed under: Florida Stewardship,Latest Updates — admin at 9:59 am on Wednesday, July 7, 2010

by Bill Belleville

There are certain things that we know for sure about freshwater springs in Florida:

We have more of them than any other region in the world.

Our geologically young terrain with its terrestrial shoals of finely porous sand and its cellar of soft limerock set the stage for this hydrological theater.

Our water cycle, made busy by the warm climate and the surrounding seas, fuels this terrain with heavy rainfall.

The rain, turned mildly acidic by the atmosphere and the detritus of the earth, seeps into the limestone. There, it flows through fissures and bedding planes, enlarging them over time so that they become caverns and caves.

Gradually, the volume of the water flowing through these natural conduits accumulates. Under pressure from its tremendous weight, these underground streams find vulnerable places in the rock where they might finally surface as springs.

Then, the magic begins. Humans who visit springs — if only from their shores — often come away with the feeling that what they’ve seen is somehow beyond reality. The waters seem almost electric, as if they pulse with energy and light.

The water flowing from the ground turns into “bowls of liquid light” (Marjorie Stoneman Douglas) and “vast fountains of ether” (William Bartram). The water-filled veins of the aquifer feeding the springs become “caverns measureless to man” (Samuel Taylor Coleridge). The entire tableau of trees and transparent water and sunshine edges into “enchantment” (Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings).

We know some of the science of springs is based on gravity: Uplands recharge these flowing rivers in the limestone. The sheer “hydrostatic” weight of the water pushes it along through the rock, until it finds a vulnerable crack where it can emerge.

A half century ago, a visionary hydrologist by the name of Gerald Parker studied this phenomenon. He named this water storage system the “Floridan Aquifer,” and referred to it as Florida’s “underground rain barrel.”

Oddly, while the nature of Florida has become more familiar, this Aquifer is still largely unknown. We cannot accurately measure it as we would a surface river, bay or reservoir. This is startling, since we rely on this aquifer to fuel our springs — and, to supply clear, clean drinking water for 90 percent of our population.

We do know this: Many of our springs that have been studied show signs of degradation over the last two decades, declining both in magnitude and in water quality.

In East Central Florida, the Wekiva River system is recognized as an ecological treasure. Its economic value to our region is in many millions of dollars. The magic of its 30-plus springs is inestimable.

Although it’s one of the best protected rivers in the entire state, the spring-fed Wekiva is only as healthy as its recharge basin. The major springs feeding the river are now degraded because of pollutants that seep into the ground far upstream and upland of where the springs emerge.
As a result of heavy nitrates from lawn fertilizers and septic tanks, both Wekiwa and Rock Springs are now considered “Impaired” by Florida DEP. This means the “caverns measureless to man” are so filled with nitrates near the spring vents that the water emerging actually pollutes the river.

To regain an ecological balance, nitrates in these bowls of liquid light must be reduced by about 80 percent for both springs. How can this be accomplished ? Should strategies to clean up the springs be mandatory? Or should they rely on the ethic of the property owner to act as a good “steward”? Give us your opinion.

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