Research and community partnerships will come together this week for the benefit of the Indian River Lagoon.
On Thursday, the Ocean Research and Conservation Association (ORCA), along with students and teachers from Florida Tech, over 30 primary schools and 28 environmental organizations, will participate in ORCA’s 5th Annual A Day in the Life of the Indian River Lagoon. This community-based, citizen science and experiential research program allows students, teachers and environmental partners to collaborate in gathering water quality data and biological inventories at over 40 locations in six counties along the 156-mile estuary.
Florida Tech is teaming with Central Middle School to examine the oyster mats at Ryckman Park, part of the university’s Living Docks program. Kelli Hunsucker, ocean engineering and marine sciences assistant professor, is leading Florida Tech’s participation of the event. She said the goal is to provide hand’s-on experiences for students bringing the concepts they’ve learned in the classroom to a real-world setting.
“It’s one thing to say and teach about salinity and different nutrient levels and fish species, but to get out there and go through the process of collecting a water sample and the analyses is another,” Hunsucker said. They can see that a site is high in phosphate or the salinity here is a lot lower than we thought. We can ask, ‘How come?’ Or, ‘Wow, I didn’t know this species of fish existed in the Indian River Lagoon.’”
Anytime that you can do something that’s hands-on, it’s more meaningful, it’s more memorable, it makes a greater impact,” she said.
Along with the outreach, the data collected along the IRL will be used for research in classrooms and labs. Additionally, as part of the Living Docks program, Florida Tech has installed 100 oyster mats around various docks in Brevard County over the years to promote the growth of oysters and other filter-feeding organisms to help clean the lagoon. The team has gone back to study the mats, and this event is another opportunity to do so and analyze their effectiveness in filtering the Indian River Lagoon, while also introducing this concept of restoration to the middle school students.
A Day in the Life of the IRL will also look to be an enriching experience for Florida Tech students participating in their first major outreach event since the pandemic.
“I think we’re just excited to get out there and do what we love again, and to be able to share that with the Florida Tech students,” Hunsucker said. “Many of them who are coming, it’ll be their first time doing an outreach event or doing this event. They will be able to share their love of marine science with the middle school students.”