UCF’s Sigma Chi chapter recently spent a Saturday at Wekiwa Springs State Park, but it wasn’t for a barbecue.
Fraternity members spent hours in the cold waters of the springs ripping out algae that’s choking the natural treasure. It was the second year Sigma Chi has volunteered for the “Restore the Blue” initiative.
There were about 100 college and high school students participating, with members of Sigma Chi from UCF and Florida Southern College in Lakeland making up the largest contingent. Organizer Russell Bryant, a retired history professor who swims in the springs every morning, said the fraternity members were “the backbone” of the algae cleanup.
“Adults don’t like jumping into the cold water at Wekiwa Springs,” Bryant said. “It was very impressive. I was surprised how enthusiastic they were. Whatever needed done, they didn’t complain, they just did it.”
About 30 members of Sigma Chi’s Eta Pi chapter at UCF participated, president Tyler Wright said.
“It was freezing, but we got to work,” Wright said. “It’s a great project, and we’re always open to helping out our brothers and helping out the community.”
Some 40 million gallons of crystal clear water from the Floridan Aquifer flows out of Wekiwa Springs every day. The boil where tourists now swim used to be nothing but blue water and sandy bottom, but development near the state park has brought trace amounts of nitrogen pollution from septic tanks, fertilizer, and runoff from roads. That’s fed algae growth that has turned the springs a sickly green.
Sigma Chi members, along with the Wekiva Wilderness Trust and Friends of the Wekiva River, used nets and buckets to remove algae, which was then screened for snails before being discarded. Native snails were returned to the springs, but most of snails were invasive.
“There is no way to clean algae out of the springs without getting people in the water and doing it by hand,” said Wright, a 21-year-old senior. “We could definitely see a difference.”
The fraternity’s hard work hasn’t gone unnoticed. In part because of projects like the springs cleanup, Sigma Chi on Wednesday received the “Most Improved Chapter of the Year Award” from the UCF Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life.
“We continue to be impressed with the dedication, drive and commitment to excellence our Sigma Chi chapter has displayed in the UCF and local community,” said Clay Coleman, director of student affairs for Fraternity and Sorority Life.