30 January 2012
with Bonnie Holub
To Dive or not to Dive ...
To dive or not to dive, that is the question. A standing room only crowd filled the Wakulla Agriculture Extension Arena the evening of January 19 to voice opinions on whether scuba diving in Wakulla Spring at Wakulla Springs State Park should be allowed.
Currently the only sanctioned dives in Wakulla Spring are for research on Wakulla’s underwater cave system. Scuba diving in three other springs within the park boundaries is already allowed, but not in the coveted Wakulla Spring, the big one, or as someone said, “the Mt. Everest” of diving. Scuba diving is allowed in a few other Florida state parks.
In one way, the meeting reminded me of a basketball game. If you were on the “no diving,” side of the issue, it appeared that your team would “win” the evening…at least during the first hour and a half of speakers. But sometime during the second half of the meeting, the “yes to diving” side started making gains - that is if you count gains based on the number of people speaking to one side of the issue. And by the end of the meeting, it appeared to be a tie. But it isn’t over yet. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection will make the call as to whether the issue continues through the halls of regulation for potential approval or whether the final buzzer has sounded and the current policy of “no public diving in Wakulla Spring” continues.
Those who spoke against opening Wakulla Spring for diving gave several reasons for their stance, including the desecration of underwater caves by overuse and careless divers, the opportunity for unscrupulous people to take artifacts that have been protected in the springs for thousands of years, the liability that comes with the dangers of cave diving, the potential negative effect on other activities at Wakulla Spring such as the proximity to the boats, swimmers and people using the dive tower, a feeling of reverence toward Wakulla Spring and the belief that adding more activities, such as scuba diving, will alter the character and environmental quality of this special place.
Those who spoke in favor of diving in Wakulla Spring cited the increased revenues for the park, and for Wakulla ecotourism in general, and the opportunity for the diving public to experience one of the most unique underwater worlds in the world. Many of the divers were offended by the accusations that divers would desecrate the caves or steal underwater artifacts such as the mastodon bones scattered in the spring, and responded by saying divers are concerned with protecting the environment, not degrading it, and divers will assist with protecting, and not harm, the cave system or the artifacts.
One of the divers who spoke in favor of opening the Wakulla Spring for diving said unauthorized people are already diving in the unique spring. He humorously added, “Here’s’ how you do it, unique in and unique out.” Many believe it would be safer to allow sanctioned diving, where divers would be screened for capabilities and park personnel would regulate the dives. The pro-diving group said divers would help keep the spring free of litter and assist with maintenance of the area.
In reality, the issue is much more serious than a sporting competition. Many view Wakulla Springs State Park and the headwaters of the Wakulla River as a spiritual place; even the word sacred has been used to describe the site. Many have memories of the spring as a place where they spent time as youngsters swimming and picnicking with their families and where they now spend time with their children and grandchildren. A place where families hold celebrations and a place where individuals go in search of serenity and communion with the out-of-doors. And some believe scuba diving in Wakulla Spring “just isn’t right.”
On the other hand, those in favor of scuba diving at Wakulla Spring believe it just isn’t right to ban the qualified public from experiencing the natural wonders offered by underwater cave diving at a state park and to ignore the economic benefits they believe will come to ecotourism in Wakulla.
What do you think? For information about the status of the issue of scuba diving at Wakulla Spring, and to voice your opinion, contact the Department of Environmental Protection Division of Parks and Recreation at (850) 245-2157.