Reflections From St. Johns Riverkeeper

November 7, 2015 5 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

From EU Jacksonville: Shannon Blankinship, Outreach Director for St. Johns Riverkeeper, on "The Year of the River" an initiative by Cultural Fusion Jax bringing together more than 50 institutions to raise awareness of the St. Johns River as the “cultural current” of Jacksonville and an important driver for economic development, recreation, tourism and quality of life throughout Northeast Florida.

This is a Call to Action

Many years ago Timucuan Indians lived off the bounty of our waterways, cattle forged the river and knuckle-heads like me paddled surfboards from Point La Vista across the river to N.A.S. Jacksonville’s river provides a delightful aspect to living on the First Coast. You can launch a boat from over 50 local public boat ramps and visit with friends, attend sporting events and concerts, shop Downtown, dine at a waterfront eatery or just enjoy the sunset.

Our river’s potential rivals that of any other waterway in the world and have an obligation to preserve and protect Jacksonville’s single greatest asset. Support for that cause challenges organizations and officials. This Year of the River focus has been a year long exploration highlighting the importance of engagement. Love our river. Appreciate and share the creative beauty that this Camelot environment inspires.

In many respects, the way our city is seen by outsiders is less dependent on the actions of our local government, or well-funded marketing and advertising campaigns, than on the portrayal of our region by local artists and musicians. Increasingly, artwork isn’t just hanging on the walls of museums or in the homes of people who can afford it. Artistic expression is being driven digitally by whatever creates the biggest buzz, and its boundaries are well beyond any city limits.

Thousands of tiny fish at Ginnie Springs just after sunrise. Photo by Melissa Shawn Griffin?, posted in the Spring Hunters Facebook Group.

Modern photographers are visiting our springs and taking underwater images, reaching potential tourists in far off countries and other states. Nearly 50,000 followers are seeking out the authentic “Old Florida” that is so easily shared via 1950’s postcards and images of sprawling rivers and live oaks through their very popular Facebook page. Videos of dolphins and manatees go viral and create a fascination with our great state that leads to future travel decisions for both recreational tourists and potential employers.

If there is one lesson learned from Year of the River, it is that the St. Johns River is a cultural driver and impenetrable source of inspiration and pride in Jacksonville and throughout Florida. The river, its beauty and bounty, supports much more than the fisheries, dolphins, manatees, oysters, and shrimp that call it home. It is more than just a “natural resource” that can be used for economic gain. The river is invaluable to our identity and our quality of life. The health of the St. Johns is a reflection of our community’s health and well-being, and this image will be projected to the world through the work of our local artists.

If we fail to clean up the St. Johns River today, generations of future artists, explorers, musicians, and painters will define our city in history as one ridden with toxic algae blooms and dirty water hazardous for wildlife. Photographers, instead of taking ethereal underwater pictures of gin-clear water teeming with fish, will be left with no choice but to feature the green-tinged polluted water that has already become the reality at many of our state’s springs. Instead of capturing the transcendent beauty of the St. Johns River at sunset, the artist will be left with a liquid landscape covered in green slime and dotted with “warning” signs, alerting us of health concerns and keeping us at bay. The potential for this to happen is actually not that far-fetched.  Health warning signs actually already exist along several of the tributaries in Jacksonville that flow into the river. Unfortunately, not a single sign has been removed since they were installed, meaning we haven’t cleaned up a single tributary from bacteria contamination after more than a decade of being required to do so.

This is a call to action. Let’s build upon the momentum of Year of the River by getting serious about our responsibility to the river. Now is the time to take the actions necessary to protect and restore this liquid treasure for current and future generations. We must stand up to protect the wetlands and marshes of the river from development and dredging. We can’t wait any longer to remove leaking septic tanks and upgrade JEA’s wastewater system to reduce the amount of pollution that is discharged into our river and its tributaries. Individually, we can prevent fertilizers and chemicals from our lawns from entering the St. Johns, and we can reduce our water consumption by conserving and using water more efficiently. WE can make these things happen!

Year of the River was the first step to moving our community, together, towards fully appreciating the immense importance of the river. Now is the time to take Year of the River to the next step. What about Year of Action for the River in 2016? We’re in.

Article by Shannon Blankinship: Outreach Director for St. Johns Riverkeeper and contributes regularly via the “On The River” column building awareness for the many issues that impact the St. Johns River. Shannon received her B.S. from Purdue University in Natural Resources Economics and Policy and her J.D. from Florida Coastal School of Law in Jacksonville. She is currently an elected official in Duval County serving on the Soil and Water Conservation District. She is a board member for the local nonprofit The Girls Gone Green and regularly contributes articles affecting animals and health. She is a Springfield resident and works to promote all things great in the urban core neighborhoods.

Article provided by EU Jacksonville

EU Jacksonville supports local art, culture and entertainment in Northeast Florida. From local artist interviews, restaurant reviews to in-depth neighborhood coverage, EU Jacksonville has informed the music, theatre, and art communities for over 30 years.

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