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Rainbow Springs Aquatic Preserve

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"Our springs have been referred to as 'liquid bowls of light.' When you visit Rainbow Springs you never leave unchanged."

-Jeff Sowards, Aquatic Preserve Manager

  • The Rainbow Springs Aquatic Preserve encompasses the entire length of the Rainbow River.
  • The river begins at Rainbow Springs and empties into the Withlacoochee River 5.7 miles to the south.
  • Rainbow Springs is Florida's fourth largest spring.
  • The 72 degree F clear water is home to 23 species of fish representing seven families of fishes.
  • This area is rich in cultural resources dating back to 7000 to 3000 B.C.

Resource Management 

The aquatic preserve partners with the Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD) and Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission to chemically treat and/or manually remove Eurasian water milfoil, hydrilla and water lettuce to control their expansion on the Rainbow River. Preserve staff also have replanted native aquatic vegetation.

Wildlife Protection and Habitat Restoration
Rainbow Springs Aquatic Preserve is an important natural resource for both wildlife and the people of Florida. From an ecological perspective, the aquatic preserve has an abundance of flora communities that provide excellent habitat for Florida's native fauna. Resource management continues to be one of the most important strategies in maintaining the overall health and success of Rainbow Springs Aquatic Preserve.

RSAP has assisted with Eckerd College’s ongoing turtle population survey since 2004. During these surveys, students and staff at Eckerd College collect turtles from the Rainbow River, measure and process the turtles including pit tags. The tags are scanned in previously collected turtles to update their data and show previous measurements. This routine sampling establishes turtle population dynamics for long term monitoring.

Education and Outreach

RSAP has been a featured exhibitor at the annual Florida SpringsFest event held at Silver Springs State Park since the origin of the festival. ORAP hosts an interactive exhibit where festival attendants can gain hands on experience with freshwater turtle species and can learn about native and nonnative species of plants and animals within the preserve. Approximately 5,000 people attend the festival annually. The aquatic preserve also conducts programs in aquatic ecology for area schools, with attendance from more than 20 teachers and 500 students each year.

Research and Monitoring

In partnership with SWFWMD's Surface Water Improvement and Management Program, the aquatic preserve continues to collect water chemistry and clarity data on a bimonthly basis. To date, the preserve has archived more than eight years of water chemistry data for the river.

Water Quality Monitoring

Water quality is one of the primary issues of importance for Rainbow Springs Aquatic Preserve. Without adequate safeguards, historical land use or changes in current land uses often lead to degradation of water quality through increased nutrient loads. The aquatic preserve has experienced changes in water quality that have negatively impacted the natural habitats and wildlife as well as decreased the aesthetic benefit for public use.

While much historic water quality data exists, recent and current research and monitoring for the Rainbow River is being coordinated by SWFWMD and DEP for pollutant load reduction goals (PLRG) and total maximum daily load (TMDL) programs.

Managed Location Contact: 
Jeff Sowards
Total Acreage: 
Receives State Funding: 
State Owned: 

Rainbow Springs Aquatic Preserve is located in southwest Marion County. The aquatic preserve includes the length of the Rainbow River and was designated in 1986 for the purpose of maintaining the springhead and river run in essentially natural condition. Rainbow Springs State Park surrounds the headsprings and follows much of the east bank of the river.

The Rainbow Springs run is one of the largest spring runs in the world. It averages a discharge of more than 400 million gallons of water per day. The run is 5.7 miles long and joins the Withlacoochee River, a black water river, near the town of Dunnellon. It is characterized by a high level of submersed aquatic plants. Ribbon or tape-like plants are the most common.
Its waters have an average temperature of 72 degrees Fahrenheit year-round. Because of this and the high water quality, it is a very popular recreational destination.

Unlike most other major spring runs in Florida, the spring discharge comes from multiple vents that are scattered over the first 1.5 miles of the run.

Public Access: 

Rainbow Springs Aquatic Preserve is a very popular recreational destination due to its crystal-clear spring waters and beautiful scenery. It is readily accessible through Rainbow Springs State Park, which surrounds the headwaters of the aquatic preserve, as well as a public boat ramp at KP Hole County Park. Tubing, boating, fishing, snorkeling, kayaking, canoeing and swimming are common activities. However, there is an idle speed boating restriction and a prohibition on disposable containers. If you are visiting the aquatic preserve through the state park, be sure to review park regulations.

Sustainable Use

Rainbow Springs Aquatic Preserve encourages the sustainable use of natural resources while minimizing the user impacts. With only 150 submerged acres contained within the aquatic preserve boundaries, it is imperative to maintain the balance between needs of recreational users and the protection of the natural resource. Public support and interagency participation are increasingly important in the protection of the natural resource to ensure its existing conditions for future generations.


There are a variety of volunteer opportunities at Rainbow Springs Aquatic Preserve. For information about volunteering, contact the Friends of the Rainbow at 352-465-8555.

Archaeological Resources: 

Archaeological evidence found along the Rainbow River indicates humans have been using the area and resources for more than 10,000 years. The spring head is a window into Florida's unique karst ecosystem, which has protected artifacts dating from prehistoric life. 

Wildlife Habitat Description: 

The majority of the aquatic preserve is made up of two natural communities: spring-run stream and blackwater stream. The aquatic preserve is also closely associated with communities of hydric hammock, mesic flatwoods and floodplain swamps.
Spring-run stream - The majority of the aquatic preserve is categorized as a spring-run stream. The overwhelming majority of the springs recharge comes from groundwater sources through the artesian openings in the underground aquifer. Water from the springheads generally runs clear, with a temperature that averages around 72 degrees. 

Blackwater stream - There is a small segment of blackwater stream in the lower portion of the Rainbow River. This segment stretches for the final quarter-mile of the aquatic preserve and forms the transition zone between the Rainbow and Withlacoochee rivers. This natural community is in decline, with water quality and clarity issues, and vegetation loss.

Aquatic caves - Although the spring vents within the aquatic preserve are too small for human access and exploration, there are large cave systems underground. Since this community remains undisturbed, those caves are assumed to be in excellent condition.

Habitat-Wildlife Type: 
Aquatic Preserves
Last Modified:
April 12, 2024 - 3:14pm

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