Sims Sink Nature Preserve
Suwannee County, Florida
The Sims Sink Nature Preserve, Suwannee County, Florida, was established for the primary purpose of protecting the Santa Fe Cave Crayfish (Procambarus erythrops). This species is listed by the State of Florida as Threatened, Florida Natural Areas Inventory as Critically Imperiled, and IUCN as Endangered. In addition to being the species’ type locality, Sims is also its ‘mother lode,’ containing more individuals than all the other known habitat caves combined times ten or twenty. The cave is of moderately small size, so it is not available for recreational cave diving.
Altogether, the Sims Sink Nature Preserve supports several NSS missions. First, it preserves outstanding imperiled species habitat. Secondly, it offers research opportunities in an underwater cave and phreatic aquifer regarding water quality and troglobitic and stygomorphic crustaceans. Third, it preserves the cave itself and whatever other resources that may exist there. Fourth, it provides a service to the public in terms of green space and biodiversity. The society’s membership can be justifiably proud of this preserve, as it demonstrates to other parties that the NSS can and does care about caves for far more than just recreation.
This preserve had two plant communities in the sixteenth century when early Spanish explorers passed through Florida. The karst plain was dominated by a fire-adapted, somewhat open woodland dominated by longleaf pine with an understory of shrubby oaks and ground cover of wiregrass and wildflowers. Much of the sinkhole was probably vegetated by a mix of pines and hardwoods.
Unknown persons converted the longleaf pine sandhill habitat to agriculture and constructed a coal-tar creosote-wood platform over the sinkhole that has become known as Sims Sink.
Ebbie Sims’ family bought the larger property (70+ acres); the platform already existed, as did an adjacent tenant house; the tenants got their water from the sink with a bucket and pulley. Ms. Sims did not know when the platform was installed, recollected no irrigation pump being on it, the platform was there to keep people from falling in, and fish had been caught on hook-and-line from the sink but she thought they may have been brought in (personal communication, March 18, 1985). Corn, peanuts, and watermelon were cultivated on the 70+ acres by the Sims family and tenants.
Procambarus erythrops formally described.
Dick Franz estimated Sims Sink crayfish population at 500 individuals based on mark-recapture method.
The property was occupied by a dense thicket of 5-to 10-foot tall, possibly 3-to 4-year old laurel oaks (Quercus hemisphaerica). The previous crop was planted slash pine (Pinus elliottii).
Dec. 14, 1984
NSS member Buford Pruitt bought 18+ acres surrounding Sims Sink.
Apr. 30, 1987
Pruitt donated 2-acre Sims Sink parcel to The Nature Conservancy (TNC).
TNC constructed a chain-link fence around a 1-acre portion containing the cave entrance.
Pruitt planted 12.5 acres of his 16+ acres in longleaf pine.
William Streever estimated the Sante Fe Cave Crayfish (P. erythrops) average lifespan at 17 years.
TNC transferred preserve to the NSS.