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St. Johns River Advocates Hope Passion Flows Down To Younger Generation

St. Johns River advocates and museum goers attended a first-of-its-kind symposium Saturday at Jacksonville's Museum of Science and History.

The event was focused on shaping the next generation of river enthusiasts.

Author and self-described springs advocate Rick Kilby took the older crowd back to a simpler time, when Kilby said the springs surrounding the St. Johns River were as clear as the memories he has of summer swimming trips. Since then, he said Florida has been too successful at attracting new residents.

“Most of our drinking water, about 80 percent, comes from the aquifer,” Kilby explained.  “And as we withdraw more and more, we reach that point where the aquifer starts to drop, and that affects the springs.”

But none of this was really new information for the adults in the room. Most of them have been around long enough to see the water change firsthand. But for their children and grandchildren, the museum is helping bring them up to speed.

MOSH educators Ethan Southworth and Heather Reynolds corralled kids around the museum’s "touch tank." It's a self-contained ecosystem that doubles as a petting zoo of animals found in and around the river.

Reynolds said seeing the animals up close at the museum helps when kids spot them in the wild later.

“One of the things people don't understand sometimes is the anemones are actually live animals that can move around. So this is to give people a little more awareness as to what they might see out there,” Reynolds said.

St. Johns Riverkeeper Outreach Director Shannon Blankinship agreed: Experiences like these ensure children will grow up wanting to conserve their ecosystem.

“One of the things we did with the kids today is we put how many gallons of water it takes to produce several different items that we’re going to having for lunch today,” Blankinship said.

Teresa Seagle and her three kids, Silas, Ollie and Penelope gathered in the museum’s ballroom for lunch. Seagle said the experience was eye-opening for her.

“I’m an educator too and one of the things I want to do with sixth through 12th graders at our school is to educate them because I think it’s vitally important,” Seagle said.

Seagle says she returning to her classroom with an even greater sense of urgency. 

Ryan Benk is a former WJCT News reporter who joined the station in 2015 after working as a news researcher and reporter for NPR affiliate WFSU in Tallahassee.