Florida Guide > Days Out
A Day at Blue Springs
We love visiting our villa at Christmas, as there is always so much to see and do, but this year we were invited by friends to join them on a day trip to Blue Springs State Park, to see the manatees, and escape the hustle and bustle of the parks. Blue Spring is the largest spring on the St John River, and is designated as a Manatee Refuge. It is here that large numbers of West Indian Manatees congregate in the warm waters to spend the winter, from mid November to the end of March. In the late 1960’s the famous Jacques Cousteau visited Blue Springs with his team of divers, and his documentary led to this land being purchased in order to provide a safe haven for the manatees.
It was a lovely sunny day in January when we set out with our friends, the sky was a cloudless azure blue, and we had packed a picnic lunch to enjoy at the Park. Our journey of approximately one hour, took us up the 1-4, past Orlando City, leaving the interstate at exit 114. We travelled along the 17/92 to Orange City for about 2. 5 miles before turning right onto West French Avenue. A leafy lane led into the park itself, where we paid a meagre $5 entry fee for the car, before driving down to a huge car park where we parked the car. It was too early for lunch so we ambled down towards the river, to see if the manatees were there. The river itself is stunning, with a variety of wildlife and birds to be observed.
The park has good facilities, with picnic benches set out in front of the river, where you can enjoy a snack, and there is a children’s play area and toilet facilities too. A long and beautiful boardwalk winds its way along the river, and we made our way to a large observation deck where people were standing watching the water. The river here is crystal clear, and as we looked along the river we were thrilled to see a number of manatees swimming lazily up and down. Having seen manatees in captivity at Epcot it was delightful to see them in their natural state at Blue Springs, where they have the freedom to come and go as they please. We watched them as they glided through the crystal clear water, graceful despite their huge bulk. Sadly, some bore the scars of unfortunate encounters with boat propellers, which frequently maim or kill them, and which is one of the major causes of trauma to these gentle creatures. In fact, more manatees are killed by high speed power boats than by any other cause.
Shoals of large, thin fish swam in and out of them, and over on the other side of the river we could discern the shape of a sleepy alligator, basking in the winter sunshine. Unblinking, it sat like a huge log, discernable only by the rough skin which looks as if a tyre has left marks all over it. We stood mesmerised by these wonderful creatures and the manatees seemed equally curious about us. As we watched them they peered at us from below. The loss of such creatures through the carelessness of humans would, indeed, be a great shame. A crowd of excited children joined us on the observation deck, together with their teachers, so we made way for them and decided to explore the river bank. A notice caught our attention, asking visitors to ‘take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints. ’
We followed the trail along the river bank, stopping from time to time to watch more manatees, until we came to the spring itself. Surrounded by lush tropical vegetation and trees this deep pool is sparklingly clear. Warm water pumps into the river from deep below the river bed, and you can see it bubbling up to the surface. The spring keeps the water at a constant 73 degrees, which is ideal for the warmth-loving manatees. Unlike other marine mammals, the manatee does not have blubber to keep it warm. They do not generate a lot of body heat as they have a low metabolism, so they get sick easily when the water is below 70 degrees. They can develop pneumonia, and then get too tired to eat, which eventually kills them. At other times of the year it is possible to swim and dive into this beautiful pool, but when the manatees are there this is strictly forbidden. It is their refuge for the winter months and their safety and well-being is paramount.
Manatees give birth to just one calf, and this is suckled by the mother from milk glands located at the base of their flippers. Although they do start eating aquatic plants from the age of about 2 months, they still return to their mother, who carefully guards it and protects it from any danger. Unfortunately, we did not see any calves but manatees were very much visible. There was even one manatee which had a transmitter strapped to its back so that it could be monitored carefully.
It was time for lunch so we had to drag ourselves away from this tranquil paradise. With only an hour until our boat trip we needed to make haste and collect our picnic from the car. Sitting at one of the picnic tables fronting the riverbank the sun was warm on our backs, and we enjoyed the peace and quiet as we sat chatting. However, time was getting on and we had booked a riverboat trip for after lunch so we cleared away our picnic and set off towards the river again. Our boat was waiting at the boat dock and was already filling up, so we boarded quickly, excitedly anticipating our fascinating 2 hour trip along the river. But that is another story!
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