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RickI 11-27-2009 05:00 AM

Complete Video - Diving Blue Springs, Manatee & Cave

Visited Blue Springs State Park just north of Orlando during DEMA this year. There was a single manatee in residence, lots of great visibility, tons of Spotted Gar, Tilapia and these bizarre little sailfin catfish, running turtles and a good deal more.

The headspring area and much of the short stream connecting to the St. Johns River are closed to swimmers and diver after mid November for the manatee. Up to several hundred manatee winter in the warmer 72 F waters here. Apparently the tilapia do the same, gets nippy in these parts for some of the aquatic life.

Video shot with GoPro WIDE camera

More about Blue Springs State Park at:

More about the manatee in Blue Springs:

I understand the manatee do poorly in seasonal cooler water outside the refuge of the springs. It is essential that they winter in the spring warmed waters to survive. The park rangers are very active in working to assure the manatees are not disturbed. We were trying to keep our distance from the single manatee. It surprised me by swimming up and putting its nose within an 1/8 inch of my camera lens. Speaking to the park ranger after, I understand I need to swim away if it approaches. Live and learn.

Wonder how he might deal with something like this? Even more rare than manatee and yet how to separate the girl from the tail?


RickI 01-13-2011 07:31 PM

Images from Summer 2010

RickI 01-13-2011 08:23 PM

We went to Orlando for Surf Expo on Saturday (Jan. 8, 2011), and decided among other stops to drive up to Blue Springs. It is about two hours round trip, no diving is allowed this time of year either. They stop going in the water around November 15 each year out of consideration for the manatee that winter here. The thing that lured me up was a vision of over 200 manatees stacked up like sausage links around the source area of the spring. I thought it would make for some nice shots. They had reported seeing about 240 manatee that morning in the spring.
The river, water levels were lower than the last time we were up. Also, there were a ton of those black sailfin catfish. They were were finger length in September, now they are whoppers. Take a good look at this image, there is something lurking here that I'll come back to in a while.
So we arrive, see a solitary manatee swimming along and think, oh no! If I had looked into things more careful, I would have expected that the manatee might head out in the warmer daytime hours to forage in the connected St. Johns River. The head back to the source around sunset and hang out there until morning I understand. Extended exposure to water 60 F or cooler can kill manatees. The springs water is a steamy 72 F year round. Cool in the summer but just the ticket for wintering sea cows. The air temp had dropped over night to 38 F in a cold front and this has been a cold winter. The springs are the only thing that help the manatee to survive aside from the odd power plant cooling canal.
Later on and moving away from the source towards the St. Johns we saw congregations of manatees along the opposing bank. The sea cows are those vague gray blobby things near the surface.
One kept turning over and scratching its back on the bottom. There is a mom manatee, her calf and soon to be annoying stick in the upper right of the frame.
Manatees are air breathers as this guy demonstrates while looking around.
This mom manatee was patiently dealing with a calf poking her with a stick for quite a while. Eventually the mom took it away using her teeth and sent the stick adrift downstream. No video games for manatees.
This is what was lurking near the top left of the first photo. Anyone see Pogo?

A more recent video from 2018 showing an alligator swimming among the manatee.
So, didn't encounter over 200 manatee all bunched up but perhaps 20 or so. It was still interesting, see you guys next time!


RickI 05-02-2012 10:08 AM

Went back to the spring on April 28, 2012 to test some GoPro camera gear. I shot some other images along the way with the GoPro HD2 camera in an EOM housing mounted on a Quikpod monopod. I did two drops with the monopod, one with the camera in video mode and the other in still. I did the same thing in lateral dive into a dead end side cave to the vertical shaft of the primary cave.

Here is a short video clip of another free diving drop done with the GoPro in video mode.\
At the turning point to ascend
It is getting a bit lighter as I move up. The limestone rings make me think I am passing up through some giant's throat.
There were SCUBA divers beneath me at points, rising through a curtain of exhaust bubbles.

Here is a short video clip swimming into one of the side dead end caves using artificial light, a Sartek movie light.
Easing out of the narrow confines into the final stretch.
The sky is in sight.

Here is a sketched section of the cave at the source of Blue Spring:
See you from Blue Spring


nomorebikinis 05-02-2012 12:53 PM

These pics words other than intriguiing, inspiring.
From a personal point of view i miss the photographer when i see most gopro pics. These ones have tension, make me curious
Thnx for sharing
Continue with experimenting !

RickI 05-02-2012 10:36 PM

Thank you! When I free dive in confined environments, I feel relaxed, not tense fortunately. It is interesting that comes out in the images. It seems to come on automatically in caverns, some wrecks, etc.. If things go wrong, then there can be plenty of tension of course! Lots more things to try in imaging, just scratching the surface at this point. Good diving!

RickI 09-09-2014 12:26 PM

Here is a sequence of images passing down and back up through the vertical cave shaft at Blue Spring State Park outside Orange City, FL.
Some images were taken last weekend while others were from at other times over the years.
A view of the spring source and horizontal slit which forms the entrance to the cave.
A sectional diagram of the cave. The scale seems to be off in this as the chute is more constricted at points than implied in the diagram.
Starting a drop down into the vertical cave. The trees have been jammed across the opening for sometime. There is a current
outflow which varies in velocity from mild to fairly strong depending upon conditions. It is classified as a first magnitude spring but the
volume rate of flow has been highly variable over the years I have visited.
Sand particles kicked by divers lower down are being blasted up with the outflow.
Passing below the trees
Looking off to the side into a horizontal cave branching off from the main vertical chute. There are a lot of these features but most
are quite small in cross-section.
A look inward and outward from this side cave from the weekend
Continuing the drop downward in the main vertical shaft. There are frequent rings reminiscent of trachea along the shaft. It isn't hard to imaging you are plunging down a giant's throat.
A backward look on descent
The shaft constricts and travels a bit more horizontally further down. Light levels are dropping too. On the recent dive I was equipped
with two small sized 1400 lumen video lights. On past dives I usually shot with low available light. All images have been shot with
various GoPro camera models from over the years.
It is getting tighter and darker with depth
Approaching my turning point for this shallow free dive. You can see the cave pinches off substantially below with a bounding layer in the rock.
Getting pretty tight down there, time to ascend
Passing upward through the ringed rock morphology
Approaching the tree blockage, don't slam your head! I imagine quite a few people do on the way out particularly with stronger outflow.
It was on the lighter side this weekend.
Surface, next stop!

So, that is a still shot tour of part of this cave. Hope to be back in January for another look, hopefully with manatees.

Image Copyright RG Iossi 2014
All rights reserved

Some background from the State Park Brochure:

"History and Nature
Blue Spring is a first magnitude spring that
discharges 104 million gallons of water daily
into the St. Johns River.

When British “Colonial” botanist John Bartram
paddled into Blue Spring in 1774, he appreciated
the “admirable fountain” but objected to the
water’s “most disagreeable taste.” Gold Rush
prospector turned orange-grower Louis Thursby
purchased Blue Spring in 1856. He built his threestory
house atop a large Indian midden in 1872.
Before the railroad rolled through in the 1880s,
Thursby’s Blue Spring Landing was a hotbed of
steamboat activity, shipping tourists and goods
to Jacksonville and beyond. Mrs. Thursby was
Orange City’s first postmistress.

Years later, in 1971, “The Forgotten Mermaids”
episode of the Underwater World of Jacques
Cousteau was filmed here. The documentary
brought attention to the manatee and the
importance of Blue Spring as a winter refuge,
greatly influencing the state’s decision to
purchase the land.

Blue Spring is the habitat for at least 15
threatened or endangered plants and animals.
The park is the winter refuge for the West Indian
manatee, home to the Florida scrub jay, gopher
tortoise, black bear and one of only two known
locations for the Okeechobee gourd. Look for
herons and other wading birds near the water.
The clear spring run displays the flashing scales
of gar and sunfish, while swimming turtles can be
seen from 50 feet away. Listen for frog calls, gaze
at a basking alligator or catch a glimpse of elusive
migratory birds."


RickI 10-29-2015 12:12 AM

I was shocked to learn that there was an experienced snorkeler fatality involving a 12 ft. long alligator at Blue Spring on October 21, 2015.

"Florida wildlife officials have confirmed that a 62-year-old man who disappeared on Monday morning while snorkeling with friends in a state park was killed by an alligator. James Okkerse went missing in Blue Spring State Park just before 9 a.m. Monday and his body was found that afternoon.

The Volusia County Medical Examiner's Office has ruled his death as being consistent with an alligator attack, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission told NBC News Wednesday. The 12-and-a-half-foot alligator had previously been spotted and caused a swimming area at the park to close twice on Sunday. Officials felt it had to be killed because of the threat it posed to park guests."

"Anen and her husband had been meeting up with Okkerse to swim on a weekly basis and she called him a 'very strong swimmer' and a 'healthy' man, WFTV reported. Okkerse was wearing a mask and a snorkel when he vanished. Anen said: 'I went up to the hole to see where he was and I saw him floating along, I thought he was diving. 'When I got there, he totally disappeared.' "
Read more:

Two people shot a videos underwater of the alligator the day before the attack:[/youtube]

There is a sign on the boardwalk, which I have to confess I don't recall seeing which says: "large alligators ... occasionally attack larger animals such as deer, and may even attack humans." Well, they were right about that sad to say. The victim lived a few miles from the spring and swam there for the last 20 years. He was last seen near the boil or vertical cave at the popular headspring. A medical examiner subsequently concluded James Okkerse was killed by an alligator.

Some precautions to observe around alligators:

We may be more interested in closely looking at the alligator than might be safe. They are often quite motionless but also very fast. The above article suggests staying at least 60 ft. away from a large alligator on land. If it is hissing or lunging at you, you are too close. They say not to swim in fresh water in Florida except in designated areas. I recently heard this before a SUP paddle in spring country. Of course in this instance Mr. Okkerse was well within such a designated swim area.

One thing that may not be common knowledge. We went biking in Canaveral National Seashore, there were a lot of alligators in the perimeter canal. My then infant son started crying in his bike seat. This sent a large alligator on the opposite bank into the water and swimming towards our side of the bank at speed. We left a little wiser about what can motivate gator interest. Barking dogs can attack as apparently can crying babies.

A listing of fatal alligator attacks in USA and some of the circumstances worth looking over at:


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