My objective was to gain knowledge and experience from the administrators, researchers, and community leaders in spring protection and restoration in Florida. By staying at Stetson University in Florida from July to September 2017, I visited springs and lagoons, discussed spring protection with community leaders, observed research sites and activities, and read governmental reports related to water quality, flow regulations, and basic management action plan of springs.
Hosting University and Institute
Established in 1883, Stetson University is the oldest and most prestigious private university in the state of Florida. The main campus of Stetson is located in Deland, Florida, recently cited by CNN and Parade Magazine as one of ‘’best small towns’’ in America. According to the 2017 U.S. News & World Report, Stetson is ranked in the top 5 regional universities in the South. Currently, based on the 2017 Stetson University Area Guide, there are 77 areas of study, 428 total faculty members, 3,084 undergraduate students, and 1,246 graduate students.
The purpose of the Institute of Water and Environmental Resilience (IWER) focuses on water and environmental research to create policy options for the conservation of natural resources in Central Florida. Its mission is to promote interdisciplinary learning and research, advance policy development, develop leadership for solving challenging environmental issues, and demonstrate environmental stewardship as a core value.
Visiting Springs and Non-Governmental Organization
Over 700 springs exist in Florida. After visiting more than 10 springs, namely, Alexander, Blue, DeLeon, Gemini, Gissy, Silver, Silver Glen, Salt, Rock, Wekiwa, Mud, and Sulfur Springs, several variations are present between springs of Florida and those of Taiwan. First, with more than 30 listed as the 1st-magnitude springs [daily magnitude of water flow > 64.6 million gallons, (100 ft³/s)] in Florida, significantly greater flow amount is found in Florida than in Taiwan. Additionally, animals like alligators and manatees are found in the springs of Florida, but not in Taiwan. Through discussions with park officers and field observations, manatee conservation strategies and alligator management policies were also learned. In Florida, the interactions with wild animals mainly rely on sign warnings and self-constraints of the general public, whereas in Taiwan any undesirable contact between citizens and wildlife is totally forbidden by law. This finding is also shared by the junior students in my department upon my returning to teach the Ecology course.
In terms of working with the nongovernmental organization (NGO) in spring protection, I had an opportunity to meet with Dr. Robert Knight, president of Howard T. Odum Florida Spring Institute, to learn from his profound knowledge of water pollution, flow diversions for human use, and management strategies for Florida springs. During our discussions, I was very impressed by his goals and operation mechanisms for non-governmental organizations in protecting the springs.
Various ecological studies, including water quality, biodiversity, and exotic fish, have been conducted in the springs of Florida. During my stay, I observed Dr. Melissa Gibbs’s works on investigating the impact of armored catfish (Pterygoplichthys disjunctivus) on the nutrient cycling and biodiversity of spring ecosystems. I also worked with Dr. Kirsten Work and her students on the comparisons of species identification and numerical counting efficiency of fish communities between video-sampling and netting in three springs. Moreover, Dr. Jason Evans took me to several springs and Satellite Lagoon to explain his research on how coastal retreats and mangrove distribution in Florida may relate with global climate change. With the influence of these research engagements and spring-related fieldwork , my future research in the springs of Taiwan will focus on the impact and effect of invasive species and climate changes on spring ecosystems.
Conservation of Water Resources in the Springs of Florida
The diverse environmental crisis affecting water quality and flow regulations currently threatens springs and lotic systems in Florida. Waste water leaked from underground septic tanks is significantly increasing the nitrogen concentration in spring water. To satisfy the living requirement of increasing immigrants from other states, more and more flow is diverted from springs for daily human use. In order to understand the management strategies and methodologies of the Florida state government in resolving the demand of flow diversions from springs and rivers, I read the state reports to determine Minimum Flow and Levels (MFL) for Gemini, DeLeon, and Green springs and Rainbow River System. To gather information on the state government’s dedication towards reducing the nitrogen concentration in springs and lagoons, I studied the official reports to develop nutrient Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) for DeLeon spring and Gemini Spring.
As a result of all this research and training, IWER Director Clay Henderson and I co-authorized a report after reviewing several state publications on the MFL determinations for several springs and Rainbow River in late June. In late August, a draft report of Volusia Blue Spring Basin Management Action Plan (BMAP) was published by the Florida Department of Environmental protection (FEDP), and this draft is also the first Draft BMAP for the Florida Springs. After reviewing the draft, Director Henderson and I co-authorized and submitted a report with comments and suggestions to the FEDP to express our concerns on several priority focus areas, including the calculation of groundwater travel time to a spring, estimation of septic tank density, remediation of septic tank, fertilizer reduction, and goals and total nitrogen reduction required to meet the TMDLs. Through all these experiences, I have gained more knowledge on the legislative structure and operation mechanisms of US government agencies.
My 3-month journey studying spring ecology at Stetson University turned out to be a very fruitful experience. I achieved my goal of visiting over 10 springs and observing spring research. I discussed with opinion leaders their philosophy and wisdom in spring protection, comprehended the organizational practices of an NGO, and learned the legislative structures and operational mechanisms of governmental agencies. Through interacting and exchanging opinions and viewpoints with researchers, administrators, and opinion leaders in Florida, this project has produced mutual benefits in springs protection and restorations for both Taiwan and the US.
I am truly grateful to Stetson University for hosting my visit. My greatest appreciation goes to all the Stetson staff and individuals who helped me during my visit, especially Dean Karen Ryan, IWER Director Clay Henderson, and faculty of IWER and Biology Department, including Dr. Wendy Anderson, Dr. Jason Evans, Dr. Melissa Gibbs, Dr. Kirsten Work, and Dr. Ben Tanner. This visit wouldn’t have been possible without the Fulbright Scholarship and all the great administrative support of Taiwan and the US offices.
Managing Editor: Carolyn Ho