Florida A&M University ecologists are trying to eradicate a harmful parasitic plant at the popular Wakulla Springs tourist attraction.
“It’s unlike the other beaches,” said Henry N. Williams, is an ecologist who serves as director of the FAMU Environmental Sciences Institute. “The water is freshwater and it’s crystal clear.”
Wakulla Springs, located a 30-minute drive from Tallahassee, attracts more than 200,000 visitors annually. Williams and his colleague, Rana Athar, are attempting to rid the springs of an unnaturally induced parasitic plant, hydrilla.
“We have been doing this for like one year,” Athar said.
It is unclear how the hydrilla came into the park, but some ecologists believe boaters may have accidentally brought the plant into Wakulla from another location, said Williams.
Wakulla Springs is the largest of outflows fed by the Floridan aquifer system, which supplies water to many areas throughout Florida.
“It’s a natural treasure… the spring is widely known outside of Florida,” said Williams. He and Athar have tried to kill the invasive plant by identifying bacteria that are present before and after the hydrilla plant blooms.
“This is a two-part process…we are trying to identify the bacteria population by molecular method unlike studies in the past, which used culture methods,” Athar said.
By identifying the bacteria present before and after the hydrilla blooms, ecologists hope to identify types of bacteria that may be harmful to the plant.
After the right bacteria is identified, it can be used against the roots or the leaves of the hydrilla, Athar said.
The second part of the process is to use the toxins kill the hydrilla.
“We hope the bacteria can then be used as toxins to fight the hydrilla, yet the park currently uses the herbicide called Aquathol to rid the ecosystem of hydrilla,” Athar said.
Hydrilla is not just invasive; it could harm wildlife if not removed.
“A fish’s oxygen supply is reduced and this leads to death if the hydrilla goes unchecked,” Williams said.
If left untreated, hydrilla could grow quickly and soon choke off the river, said Scott Savery, biological scientist for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection Division of Recreation and Parks at Wakulla Springs.
“This monoculture of hydrilla would reduce the variety and quantity of wildlife found at the park,” Savery said.
Thus far, the plant has not hurt the park’s tourism and revenues, but that could happen if hydrilla’s growth continues unchecked.
“Boat tours would be unable to access the river and swimming would be unsafe if not impossible,” Savery said.
“An unmanaged hydrilla infestation at Wakulla Springs would only allow park visitors to look at the river and spring and not much else.”
For more information contact Edward Ball Wakulla Springs State Park at (850) 926-0700 or go to http://www.FloridaStateParks.org.