Faculty, Students and Community Volunteers Can Help
Bring Back Oyster Beds, Native Marine Plants to Lagoon
MELBOURNE, FLA. — The words “Indian River Lagoon” once conjured images of serene waters, frolicking dolphins and wide-smiled anglers boasting of their latest catch. Today, residents of Brevard and Indian River counties may instead speak of sedimentary muck, algal blooms and massive fish kills.
Florida Institute of Technology and its Indian River Lagoon Research Institute (IRLRI) have launched two programs to help bring back some of the lagoon’s natural defenses and restore its health.
Over the years, over-harvesting, pollution and coastal construction have wiped out huge numbers of oyster beds, which act as natural reefs that help block wave energy and prevent shoreline erosion. Oysters themselves act as living filters, removing impurities from the water naturally, efficiently and constantly.
IRLRI, in partnership with the Brevard Zoo, is using funds from a $500,000 Florida Department of Economic Opportunity grant to develop and construct a showcase “living shoreline” design in Indialantic, just off the Melbourne Causeway. The efforts include creating an engineered oyster reef made with aquiculture-grade mesh bags filled with oyster shells seeded with oyster spat (baby oysters) to block erosion. The project also calls for working with participants to select appropriate shoreline vegetation, such as mangrove and marsh grasses which, when planted on the banks, help buffer waves and attract fish.
The IRLRI’s Living Docks program invites Brevard residents to turn docks and seawalls along the shores of the lagoon into homes for oysters and other benthic organisms such as clams and sponges. Doing so will improve the health of the lagoon while also providing food and habitat for fish.
Participants hang mesh bags filled with used oyster shells from the sides of docks or seawalls, submerged into the water. The presence of the shells attract oyster larvae, which then propagate and grow. A single dock with 37 pilings—with an average of 32 oysters per piling—can filter about 21 million gallons of water per year.
The IRLRI and the Brevard Zoo are seeking community members to participate in these and other lagoon-related projects. Volunteers interested in the Living Shoreline project may contact Jake Zehnder at Brevard Zoo at firstname.lastname@example.org. Those seeking to volunteer for the Living Dock initiative may contact Robert Weaver at email@example.com.