Wakulla Springs is located 14 miles (23 km) south of Tallahassee, Florida and 5 miles (8.0 km) east of Crawfordville in Wakulla County, Florida at the crossroads of State Road 61 and State Road 267. It is protected in theEdward Ball Wakulla Springs State Park.
Wakulla cave is a branching flow-dominated cave that has developed in the Floridan Aquifer under the Woodville Karst Plain of north Florida.
It is classified as a first magnitude spring and a major exposure point for the Floridan Aquifer. The spring forms the Wakulla River which flows 9 miles (14 km) to the southeast where it joins the St. Mark's River. After a short 5 miles (8.0 km) the St. Mark's empties into the Gulf of Mexico at Apalachee Bay.
Scientific interest in the spring began in 1850, when Sarah Smith reported seeing the bones of an ancient mastodon on the bottom. Since that time, scientists have identified the remains of at least nine other extinct mammalsthat date to the last glacial period, deposited as far as 1,200 feet (360 m) back into a cave. Today, at a depth of about 190 feet (58 m), the fossilized remains of mastodons are in full view along with other fossils.
The Florida Geological Survey (FGS) commissioned their first study in August and September 1930 with geologist Herman Gunter.Gunter's work focused on the recovery of fossils found in the spring basin. He utilized hard hat diving techniques, a dredge, and "long-handled grappling tongs". A mastodon recovered from their work is now on display at the Museum of Florida History.
The FGS conducted additional studies at Wakulla Springs in 1955, 1956, and 1962 under the direction of vertebrate paleontologist, Stanley J. Olsen. Olsen's team of six divers from Florida State University discovered animal fossils deeper within the spring complex where they also found archaeological evidence of early humans, including bone and stone tools. Ultimately, the presumed behavioral association among the recovered cultural and fossil materials could not be demonstrated unequivocally because of the difficulty of establishing and maintaining provenience control in a submerged spring-vent context.
A major further exploration of Wakulla Springs was conducted in October–December 1987 by an expedition led by Dr. Bill Stone. The expedition team, which also included Sheck Exley and Wesley C. Skiles, penetrated the cave system to a distance of 4,160 feet (1,270 m) from the cave entrance. Skiles filmed the expedition for a National Geographic special.During the expedition Stone's Cis-Lunar Mk-1 rebreather was demonstrated in a 24-hour dive which used only half of the system's capacity.In 1998-1999, Stone directed an international group of explorers consisting of over 100 volunteers to participate in the Wakulla 2 Project.
Wakulla cave consists of a dendritic network of conduits of which 12 miles (19 km) have been surveyed and mapped. The conduits are characterized as long tubes with diameter and depth being consistent (300 ft or 91 m depth); however, joining tubes can be divided by larger chambers of varying geometries. The largest conduit trends south from the spring/cave entrance for over 3.8 miles (6.1 km). Four secondary conduits, including Leon Sinks intersect the main conduit. Most of these secondary conduits have been fully explored. On December 15, 2007,Woodville Karst Plain Project divers physically connected the Wakulla Springs and Leon Sinks cave systems establishing the Wakulla-Leon Sinks cave system. This connection established the system as the longest underwater cave in the United States and the sixth largest in the world with a total of 31.99 miles (51.48 km) of explored and surveyed passages.
Flow rate of the spring is 200–300 million US gallons (760,000–1,140,000 m3) of water a day. A record peak flow from the spring on April 11, 1973 was measured at 14,324 US gallons (54,220 L) per second – equal to 1.2 billion US gallons (4,500,000 m3) per day.