The Indian River Lagoon:
An estuary of national significance
The Indian River Lagoon is a diverse, shallow-water estuary stretching across 40 percent of Florida’s east coast. Spanning 156 miles from Ponce de Leon Inlet in Volusia County to the southern boundary of Martin County, the lagoon is an important commercial and recreational fishery and economic resource. The total estimated annual economic value of the lagoon is $3.7 billion, supporting 15,000 full and part-time jobs and providing recreational opportunities for 11 million people per year.
The people attracted to the lagoon by its features — its vast diversity of marine life, plants and animals; temperate climates; accessibility and direct links to the Atlantic Ocean — have changed those characteristics over the last century and particularly within the last 50 years. Throughout recorded history, there have been fish kills, algal blooms and changes in water quality. The lagoon has had a natural ability to absorb a certain amount of pollutants. However, when overloaded, the lagoon suffers.
Since the 1990s, restoration and water quality improvement projects (see “background and history” paralleled improved conditions in the lagoon. Seagrass coverage in the estuary — used by scientists as an indicator to determine relative water quality — climbed steadily from 1993 through 2011.
Since 2011, seagrass beds have declined due to an algal superbloom, followed by a series of brown tide blooms.
The St. Johns District, federal and state agencies, local governments and educational institutions are individually and collectively working to find answers to the cause of algal blooms in the lagoon and to identify what can be done in the future to limit or avoid similar events. The various partners are investigating the possible causes of the blooms and developing strategies to reduce their magnitude, duration and frequency. The St. Johns District’s Indian River Lagoon Protection Initiativeis focused on better understanding the sources, cycling and transport of lagoon nutrients and the long-term impacts from the loss of the lagoon’s seagrasses, as well as potential strategies aimed at restoring the lagoon to a seagrass-dominated ecosystem.
Ed Garland at 321-676−6612 or [email protected].