Learning from Florida’s Springs

Stetson University Professor Kirsten Work and a student pulled on wetsuits and waded into the cool, clear water of Blue Spring, preparing to conduct fish research early one morning.

Tagging along was Shih-hsiung Liang, a Fulbright Scholar from Taiwan who is spending the summer at the Stetson Institute for Water and Environmental Resilience to learn about springs in Florida.

Shih-hsiung Liang stands on platform next to Blue Spring
Fulbright Scholar Shih-hsiung Liang visits Blue Spring State Park, learning about springs in Florida in hopes of protecting and restoring springs back home in Taiwan.

Liang will take that information back home as he and a team of scientists make an inventory of springs in Taiwan, raise public awareness about the importance of water resources, and begin to advocate for environmental protections.

“We really see the attitude starting to change,” said Liang, a professor in the Biotechnology Department at the National Kaohsiung Normal University, which has about 8,000 students. “People here are very concerned about discharge and the quality of the springs.”

Springs on the island of Taiwan, off the coast of China, are far smaller than the springs in Central Florida, he said. Blue Spring, for example, has an average flow of about 100 million gallons per day into the Blue Spring Run, a place for people to swim, and a habitat for manatees and other aquatic life.

In Taiwan, springs seep from rocks or produce just a small flow, he said. Only a few are large enough for swimming. Historically, domestic and industrial waste ended up in the springs, and they are polluted. Some have been sealed with cement.

But Liang hopes to change that.

In 2011, he and three other professors were tasked by the government with a three-year project to document 50 springs in Taiwan, recording their location and studying the water quality and aquatic life – the first such study there, he said.

In 2016, the government extended the project for another three years and asked the team to document 50 more springs. The government would like to promote their springs for tourism, much like neighboring Japan, Liang said. Japan protects its pure spring water and touts its products, such as rice and bottled water, made from it.

Clay Henderson
Clay Henderson is executive director of the Stetson Institute for Water and Environmental Resilience.

“We will try to learn from here and from Japan, and bring all these experiences back to Taiwan to do similar things,” said Liang, who has visited Japan six times during the springs project.

Clay Henderson, executive director of Stetson’s Water Institute, said Liang brings a fresh perspective as the two have reviewed reports from the various governmental agencies that oversee Florida’s springs.

“We’re reviewing technical reports by agencies and we’re commenting on them,” Henderson said. “He asks good questions. He’s looking at it with a different set of eyes. We’re used to reacting to big bureaucracies with their own acronyms and he just cuts right through it.”

Liang also will speak to several Stetson environmental classes when the fall semester begins Aug. 24. Then, he will return home on Sept. 1.

Professor Kirsten Work and student Jifu Jennings get ready to get into Blue Spring
Stetson University Biology Professor Kirsten Work, Ph.D., right, and Stetson student Jifu Jennings prepare to start a new research project in Blue Spring.

In the meantime, he’s getting out to visit area springs, such as with Biology Professor Work, Ph.D., and Stetson student Jifu Jennings on the recent morning to Blue Spring State Park in Orange City.

Work is just beginning a research project to evaluate a new way to describe fish communities in springs.

She will try to validate data on spring fish that she collected on video all over central and north Florida last spring. She and Jennings will compare data on the abundance of fish and diversity of species collected by the traditional method of using a seine net versus GoPro cameras, which they place underwater for short periods of time and count the fish on the digital recording. This will be Jennings’ senior research project this year before she graduates with a degree in Aquatic Marine Biology.

Liang complimented Stetson on requiring the senior research projects, which give students experience in field work, data analysis and writing a thesis, he said. Liang wasn’t required to do that as an undergraduate student in Taiwan. He later received a master’s degree and Ph.D. in animal ecology at Iowa State University.

“I’m really enjoying my stay here. People are very nice,” he commented, adding that he’s staying in Stetson Cove apartments and was provided a bicycle for transportation through Stetson Public Safety.

“People talk about Southern hospitality and I’ve experienced that at Stetson.”

-Cory Lancaster