Rainbow River

After a proper American breakfast at a fast food chain, we had a meeting with Joe Smyth, Manager of Rainbow Springs State Park, around 60 miles south of Ichetucknee Springs. First, Joe explained the park to us and promised us all the help we needed to do a good job.

The Dennerle plant guide that we had brought with us as a gift probably put him in a good mood. Every ranger in the park was briefed and they were all ready to support us. Little gifts retain friendships.

Rainbow Springs State Park, five miles north of Dunnelon, was colonised by native Americans 10,000 years ago and is the fourth largest spring area in Florida. The water does not come from just one main source, as is usually the case, but from several small springs spread across the bottom of the river. The day started off very sunny, which makes it rather difficult for underwater photographers, as the contrast is too sharp. Chris decided to wait a while until the first clouds appeared, which greatly improved the lighting conditions. The bathing area of the spring is so heavily used that there are no aquatic plants there.

In areas where bathing is prohibited you find a totally different world. The aquatic plants reach up to the surface and some are up to five metres long. The ubiquitous plant in the section of river where we snorkelled was Potamogeton illinoensis.

Another very prevalent plant was a Sagittaria species with very narrow leaves up to one metre long. On the sunny side of the river there were large areas of Utricularia foliosa as well as Myriophyllum, a few Valisneria and the beautiful red Ludwigia repens. The whole river was teeming with fish, turtles and shrimps, which were searching for hideouts in the dense carpets of Utricularia. However, the scene changes dramatically when you get further downstream into the inhabited areas outside of the park, where people swim, fish and go boating. Here the aquatic plant populations are already significantly depleted and the scene is dominated by lots of areas of white sandy floor.

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