At the heart of Florida’s “Nature Coast”, over 50 first magnitude springs provide a continuous flow of clean, 72 degree freshwater to the King’s and Homosassa Bay areas, located between the Crystal and Homosassa Rivers. This ecological gem along the Gulf Coast boasts a thriving diversity of exotic tropical creatures and is the perhaps the best location in all of Florida to view manatees at home in the wild. For those who prefer a paddle to a hiking stick when wandering, this outstanding labyrinth of fresh and brackish waterways provides some of the most spectacular sights for kayakers and canoeists of anywhere in America.
Like any wilderness habitat, many variables are at play in the creation of such an area, but the beauty of this ecosystem starts with the spring water. Fed by a first-magnitude system over 64 million gallons of freshwater flows from deep within the Floridan Aquifer and out to the Gulf of Mexico daily. The water is filtered through millions of tons of lime rock as it seeps down into the karst plain from Georgia and North Florida, arising from the springs as clear as glass and allowing abundant opportunities to spot fish, otter, alligators and more all living in this natural aquarium.
The Earth itself acts as a blanket of sorts for the water system, keeping the water here at or near 72 degrees Fahrenheit for the entire year. As coastal water temperatures drop in autumn and winter, Florida Manatees congregate in large numbers in the Homosassa and Crystal Rivers. Despite their large size and superficial resemblance to seals and sea lions, Manatees are poor at conserving their body heat and as such cannot survive for long in waters below 60 degrees. Part of the reason the Nature Coast is such a special ecosystem is that manatees can be found here year round, and not just seasonally as in much of the rest of Florida.
Besides Manatees, other exotic tropical wildlife can be spotted in the area as well. There is an island of monkeys at the mouth of the Homosassa River, where over five South American spider monkeys live year round. And paddling wanderers venturing into the maze of waterways and small salt marsh islets have myriad bird watching opportunities in the area. Eagles, osprey, owls, egrets, herons, seagulls, ibis and whooping cranes all live in or migrate through wilderness along this stretch of the coast. Sport fishing opportunities are abundant, with a variety of freshwater and inshore saltwater angling favorites found in the area.
All of these factors help contribute to a wealth of eco diversity in the area, and diversity is a wonderful gauge of an ecosystem’s health. The more types of the life an area can support correlates to a healthy environment. And there aren’t many wilderness areas left anywhere that are this healthy! With climate change and population growth, thriving ecosystems like the Nature Coast are becoming more treasured for what they are and not just for what resources they provide. And in Homosassa it all begins with the pure spring water, pumped like blood from the heart of the earth, feeding a rich and bountiful paddling destination loaded with manatees, alligators, sport fish and more!