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Fanning and Manatee Springs

Both Fanning Spring and Manatee Spring are major springs flowing into the lower Suwannee River, a few miles apart, are located within state parks, and share common features.

Fanning Spring is fed primarily from a single vent in a limestone depression, but there are also many small sand boils and tiny spring seeps flowing into the spring from the surrounding limestone banks of this picturesque spring. The spring pool and short spring run are currently used as very popular and safe swimming area in the natural park setting; there is also rich evidence of historic human use here. Similarly, the single vent of Manatee Spring and its spring run are located in the natural forest floodplain of the Suwannee River.

Image of Reflection of cypress trunk and knees in the waters of Manatee Spring.Reflection of cypress trunk and knees in the waters of Manatee Spring. © Connie Bersok/FDEP

Manatee Springs is one of Florida’s largest springs, averaging 117 million gallons of water daily, and is a National Natural Landmark. The botanist and naturalist William Bartram visited in June 1774 and wrote about the spring and its tremendous spring boil in his book, Travels of William Bartram.

Image of Mullet gather where the clear water from Fanning Spring meet the dark tannin water of the Suwannee River.Zoom+ Mullet gather where the clear water from Fanning Spring meet the dark tannin water of the Suwannee River. © Harley Means/DEP

Both springs have clear blue water, except when they are inundated by the dark tannin waters of the Suwannee River during floods.

An extensive underwater cave system has been explored and over 26,000 feet have been mapped at Manatee Spring. Catfish Hotel Sink within the state park provide access to cave divers to continue studying this system, as entry through the spring vent against the current is very difficult. The rapid movement of groundwater through these caves and conduits was confirmed in a dye study conducted in 2009. Dye injected into a sinkhole in nearby Chiefland, about 8 miles away, was detected in Manatee Spring in less than 8 days!

These springs provide critical winter habitat for the West Indian Manatee, as the water in these springs is warmer than the water in the Suwannee River at that time of year. The Gulf Sturgeon can often be found in the Suwannee River, near the mouth of these spring runs with their cooler water, in the summertime.

Like all springs in Florida, both Fanning and Manatee springs discharged water that was historically very low in nutrients. The native plant and animal communities of springs were well suited to low nutrient water. However, the level of nitrates has increased over the years in both of these springs; the nitrate levels in Fanning Spring have consistently ranked among the highest in the state. As a result of this change in water chemistry, the spring community has changed. The native eelgrass is giving way to dense algal mats; in some places, the eelgrass and the animals that rely on the eelgrass has completely disappeared.

Image of Algals mats grow on the limerock and sandy bottom at Fanning Spring.Zoom+ Algals mats grow on the limerock and sandy bottom at Fanning Spring. © Harley Means/DEP

Restoration of the springs and the plants and animals that live there will require addressing the primary sources of nitrates in these basins: fertilizer (both on agriculture lands and in residential developments) and animal and human wastes. The state parks have removed old septic systems and replaced them with more efficient wastewater treatment operations to reduce the most local source of nitrates. Citizens, farmers, and local and regional governments are discussing ways to take actions in the springshed to reduce nitrate loading on a larger scale.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s staff have collected water quality and biological data from 18 springs over a period of years to understand the ecological condition of the springs and the spring runs.

Early sampling results were reported in annual EcoSummaries for each spring. Here are EcoSummaries for Manatee Spring and Fanning Spring.

Download Fanning Spring Ecosummary

Fanning Spring Ecosummary - 203.9KB
Ecosummary of the biological condition of Fanning Spring, based on data collected in 2004

Download Manatee Spring Ecosummary

Manatee Spring Ecosummary - 151.1KB
Ecosummary of the biological condition of Manatee Spring and run, based on data collected in 2006

The final data set for all the springs sampled between 2002 and 2007 was contained in a single Monitoring Report for Eighteen State and Federally Managed Spring Systems in Florida

Florida Department of Environmental Protection
Ground Water and Springs Protection

Rick Hicks, PG, PG Administrator
Phone: 850-245-8229
Contact for: General springs information

Middle & Lower Suwannee River and Santa Fe River Basin Management Action Plans
Terry Hansen, Basin Coordinator
Phone: (850) 245-8561
Contact for: Information on TMDL and BMAP development and implementation

Local Government and Water Resource Agencies

Citizen Stakeholder and Watershed Organizations

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