Deep beneath the ground we stand on, below the strip malls and the condos and the lush green of the golf courses, runs a river of water that makes life in Florida possible. The underground aquifer rushes through Swiss cheese caverns, its hidden flow bubbling up to the surface in Florida’s estimated 1,000 springs -- the greatest concentration of springs on Earth.
A century ago Florida’s gin-clear springs drew presidents and millionaires and tourists galore who sought to cure their ailments by bathing in the healing cascades. Now the springs tell the story of a hidden sickness, one that lies deep within the earth.
In the middle of the Ocala National Forest lies Silver Glen Springs, the one spring in Florida that has all the scientists scratching their heads.
To the tourists, nothing’s changed. The glass-bottom boats still chug back and forth across the bubbling bowl of water, and they can peer down and see fish and turtles swimming along as if they were cruising above a giant aquarium.
Twelve years ago, when a panel of experts published a report on everything wrong with Florida’s springs, one meager ray of light came from Sulphur Spring in Tampa.
These stories are based on interviews dating to December 2010, along with numerous site visits and reviews of scientific and government documents. Craig Pittman has been reporting on environmental issues for the Times since 1998. Caryn Baird has been a news researcher for the Times since 1999. News artist Darla Cameron has worked for the Times since 2008. Photojournalist Chris Zuppa has worked for the Times since 2002.