Indian River Lagoon Update
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Inside this issue
This issue of the Indian River Lagoon Update is dedicated to explaining the series of events that have occurred in the lagoon, the emerging impacts resulting from the algal blooms and the agencies, educational institutions and stakeholders facing the tasks of improving their understanding of the complex biological relationships within the estuary and finding solutions to restore its long-term health. Links below go to articles from the recent newsletter edition and to frequently updated web pages within the itsyourlagooon.com section of this website.
The Indian River Lagoon is in distress. Vast tracks of seagrass have disappeared and manatees, dolphins and pelicans have died from undetermined, unusual causes. Read about work being done to better understand these events and how to prevent future occurances.
Scientists study causes of superbloom and look at its potential impacts.
Stakeholders and scientists discuss changes in climate and stress factors on the lagoon’s health.
District launches program of intensified work.
Consortium of scientists from government and academics collaborate on lagoon issues.
Tips for lessening human impacts on the estuary.
Couple’s landscape reduces impacts on the lagoon.
Symposium explores the health of the lagoon
Dr. Charles Jacoby
Indian River Lagoon
National Estuary Program
St. Johns River Water
In February 2013, approximately 200 scientists, students, education and outreach professionals, decision makers, and members of the public gathered for the Indian River Lagoon Symposium.
Held at Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute at Florida Atlantic University, this meeting was the second in a series. The symposium was an opportunity for agencies and stakeholders to discuss science related to the Indian River Lagoon and application of that science for lagoon management. This year’s topic was “Health of the Lagoon,” partly in response to questions prompted by recent algal blooms. The agenda included a full day of technical presentations and a half-day, open forum.
The keynote address was delivered by Joel Steward, a technical program manager with the St. Johns River Water Management District. Steward’s talk highlighted concerns about shifts in the ecological functioning of the lagoon due to excessive nutrients. He linked recent meteorological conditions, including drought and cold winters, to long-term anthropogenic stress on the lagoon’s ecology. In particular, Steward discussed how shifts in nutrient cycling due to a loss of macroalgae could have led to the phytoplankton blooms observed in 2011, especially the superbloom that was substantially worse than other blooms of the past 17 years.
One key impact was a loss of 47,000 acres of seagrasses or about 60 percent of the seagrass that had grown during a prior decade of improvement. In his conclusions, Steward pointed to the length of time water resides in the lagoon as an indicator of its sensitivity. He stated that controlling loads of nutrients entering from the watershed remains the “best bang for the buck” in terms of sustainable management of the lagoon.
Ann Benedetti, an intergovernmental coordinator with the St. Johns River Water Management District, chats with Rashan Moss (left) and Andrew Kamerosky of Bethune-Cookman University during the Indian River Lagoon Symposium.
Steward’s keynote speech was followed by five presentations that provided more details on the superbloom and loss of seagrass. These presentations examined the distribution and timeline of the bloom, potential sources of nutrients to fuel the bloom, changes in water quality during the bloom, loss of seagrass, and effects on invertebrates and fish. The superbloom appears to have arisen from interactions among multiple factors, potentially including a shift in cycling of nutrients and changes to populations of grazers that exert “top-down” controls on phytoplankton. The loss of seagrass was unprecedented. Furthermore, conditions that led to the bloom and the effects of the bloom extended throughout the ecosystem, even to fish. The ultimate impacts of the superbloom are expected to unfold over several years.
During the remaining sessions, discussion and posters addressed a diverse array of topics. One session explored nutrient sources, distribution, effects and management, with nutrients recognized as a cause of impairment that partly can be managed through the total maximum daily load process. Two presentations provided information on the brown tide of 2012, which was another major phytoplankton bloom that followed the superbloom of 2011. Invasive species, which represent a form of biological pollution, also were discussed. Several presentations focused on the health of key species, including dolphins, manatees and birds, and one presentation described the role of people in understanding and managing the lagoon. Overall, the day provided multiple perspectives and a substantial amount of valuable information related to the health of the lagoon and work to improve and protect it.
The half-day forum offered participants, primarily the public, a chance to share their views of the lagoon. Three excellent presentations by Bob Virnstein (a former District scientist), Kathy Hill (an education coordinator with the lagoon program) and John Orcutt (lagoon area resident) set the scene by outlining the role of science, public involvement and governments/agencies.
These talks were designed to raise questions, and they succeeded. In the open discussion session, participants expressed concerns about threats to the health of the lagoon, and discussions moved to actions that could help address some of the issues. Three key points seemed clear: 1) participants sought a unified message regarding the health of the lagoon, 2) that message needs to be communicated clearly and to a wide audience, and 3) local leadership is needed to generate solutions for many of the threats to the health of the lagoon.
Plans are under way to form three working groups that will keep the momentum rolling and to organize another symposium for February 2014.
Couple sets example by reducing impacts to lagoon
It’s one thing to talk about reducing your impact on the health of the Indian River Lagoon; it’s quite another to put those words into action.
Indian River County Commissioner Bob Solari is passionate about gardening and protecting the Indian River Lagoon from stormwater runoff.
Indian River County Commissioner Bob Solari and his wife, Jackie, are using their gardening talents to show others how to create an attractive yard without relying heavily on water and fertilizer.
When the couple bought their house 25 years ago, their yard was typical of a 1920s-era Florida yard: a couple of oak trees and a whole lot of turf.
Over the next quarter century, the couple set out to transform their Vero Beach property into a tropical sanctuary that by its very design imposes virtually no environmental impacts on the nearby lagoon.
The Solaris’ passion for plants is evident everywhere. Under the sun-dappled shade of live oaks are compost stations. Potted plants — many gathered from either seeds or cuttings — flourish in jewel tones, attracting birds and butterflies. Paved walkways and patios have replaced all of the grass surrounding the house.
“In another year, all the grass will be gone,” says Solari. “The only place we mow now is near the street. There will be zero mowing next year. We’re creating a better environment at our home.”
Solari says he is trying to set an example for others to illustrate how individuals can positively impact the environment in ways better than regulations for fertilizer use and landscape irrigation.
What’s the connection between green lawns and the Indian River Lagoon? — Stormwater runoff, which can contain nitrogen and phosphorus from lawns that have been over-fertilized. When the lagoon becomes oversaturated with nutrients, algal blooms can form. Algae block sunlight from reaching seagrass, which is one of the lagoon’s most important fish habitats and a good indicator of the lagoon’s overall health. Excessive algae also may rob the water of oxygen when it dies, causing fish kills.
The Solaris are only irrigating 40 percent of their property and Bob Solari says he only uses a small amount of liquid fertilizer on a few flowering plants near the house. The perimeter of his property is slightly elevated, ensuring no storm water leaves the property. Instead of asphalt or concrete, the driveway is permeable Alabama river rocks, and walkway pavers are spaced to allow water to run between them and into the ground. Thanks to permeable soils, runoff from the neighboring properties — which are at higher elevations — doesn’t flood his yard.
“There is no runoff from my yard,” he says. “Unless there’s a hurricane, no water is leaving this property.”
Solari says he hopes his yard can be an example for others to follow.
“Anyone who wants to come by and see the yard can contact me,” he says. “You’ll usually find me working in the yard on Saturday mornings.”