Volunteers scrub away Wekiwa Springs algae scum

[27th, Apr 2014] With brooms, rakes, nets and bare hands, nearly 50 volunteers on Sunday scrubbed a scum of green algae off the floor of Wekiwa Springs, hoping to bring back its white sand and blue water. “What do you… think is it working?” said organizer Russell Bryant, up to his chest in 72-degree water and quizzing those watching from the sea wall along the most revered springs in Central Florida.

Even with sunlight drilling into the swimming area, it wasn’t easy to say whether hauling away buckets of gunk would pay off. The labor had clouded the water with silt. A more vexing question was whether the unusual cleanup would last a couple of days, months or longer.

“This is an experiment,” said Amy Conyers, assistant manager at Wekiwa Springs State Park. “We’ll see how quickly the algae comes back.”

Like many of Florida’s treasured springs, Wekiwa is plagued with nitrogen pollution from septic tanks, fertilizer and street runoff. It’s a trace amount but potent enough to feed excessive growth of algae.

Bryant, 73, is a regular among morning swimmers at Wekiwa and has tasked himself with brushing green fuzz off metal steps that descend into the water.

A fan of Wekiwa Springs has decided he’s no longer going to put up with algae gunking up his favorite swimming hole. The retired doctor has enlisted volunteer help from members of the fraternity he used to belong to, including UCF students.

But that’s too limited for his patience, and with state lawmakers dillydallying over restoring springs health, Bryant decided “it’s time to do it ourselves while there is still a springs left.”

He reached out to members of his college fraternity, Sigma Chi, and they came from the University of Central Florida, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Florida Southern College and an alumni chapter in Orlando.

Also pitching in were Apopka High School water polo players, Lake Highland Preparatory School biology students and visitors who happened upon the scene.

Many of the students had never plunged into Wekiwa or any other spring, which was an added benefit of the workday, said Deede Sharpe, president of Friends of Wekiva River.

“There are a lot of young people here and we need to get the next generations interested,” Sharpe said.

Sunlight rinsing through the water projected a rippling lacework on the spring’s bottom, prompting Chicago resident Renee Taborin, 30, to say she was impressed by the scenery.

“I think anybody would think it’s pretty,” she said.

But old-timers and biologists hate the drab green cloaked over what had been a dazzling lens of water gushing from the Floridan Aquifer. Wekiwa’s flow is more than 40 million gallons a day.

Removing the green scum wasn’t easy, but also wasn’t tedious, given that the stuff is 95 percent water.

“Big chunks are coming up,” said Justin Core, 26, president of the Sigma Chi alumni chapter in Orlando.

From dry land, mostly only heads and shoulders were visible, bobbing with the exertion of working rakes, brooms and nets under the surface.

A brigade of scum buckets led to a table, where Deborah Shelley, manager of the Wekiwa aquatic preserve, and volunteers rummaged for snails, culling the exotic species and returning natives to the water.

Some optimism about the effort stemmed from knowing tens of thousands of warm-weather swimmers will soon arrive. Their wading and shuffling around will help fend off algae.

Tammy Preble, 51, a daily swimmer at Wekiwa, said it’s easy to realize when Bryant has been away on vacation. The metal steps quickly regrow their slippery beards.

She knows the algae is persistent and that getting rid of it will require far-reaching solutions. But she looks forward to seeing what difference a good scrubbing can make.

“I’ll know tomorrow when I go swimming,” she said.

Orlando Sentinel

View original article at: Volunteers scrub away Wekiwa Springs algae scum

Leave a Reply