A Summer on the Lagoon

Cartoon used with permission from Florida Today

Water. Sun. Dolphins. Manatees. Pelicans. As an environmental science major, these are some of the things I enjoyed every week while I interned with the St. Johns River Water Management District (SJRWMD). What did I do? I helped monitor seagrass and water quality in the Indian River, Banana River and Mosquito Lagoon. I spent a lot of time in the water snorkeling, collecting water samples and taking measurements on seagrass, salinity, chlorophyll and turbidity. Also, in preparation for, and during my internship, I learned a lot about the lagoon and its issues.

Florida Tech students are fortunate enough to live in this area. The Indian River Lagoon is one of the most diverse estuaries in the world—the lagoon and its surrounding area is home to more than 5,000 plant and animal species. The IRL comprises three lagoons (Banana River, Indian River and Mosquito Lagoon). It covers over 353 square miles and spans six counties. The IRL, valued at $3.7 billion as of 2007, is also a major source of income for the counties it borders. However, as of late, the IRL has been suffering.

The IRL has been subject to several phytoplankton and algal blooms the last few years and because of this, the IRL’s seagrass populations, and subsequently wildlife populations, in addition to lagoon-dependent industries, have taken a pretty severe hit. When seagrasses disappear, they take with them a nursing ground for juvenile fish and a food source for animals such as manatees. The recent algal blooms also contribute to the rise in manatee, dolphin and pelican deaths throughout the lagoon.

After the 2011 algae “super bloom,” our lagoon lost about 60% of the seagrass in the lagoon, or 47,000 acres. Each acre of seagrass can contribute between $5,000 and $10,000 to the local economy, meaning every year seagrass loss costs $235-$470 million per year.. The loss of seagrass and the declining health of the lagoon have a large impact on daily life in each of the bordering counties.

That’s why concerned citizens in those counties are organizing a Hands Across the Lagoon event that will take place on September 28. Hands Across the Lagoon aims to raise support and awareness for issues plaguing the lagoon while asking lawmakers to help improve our lagoon. The event will take place between 9 and 10 a.m. on the Melbourne Causeway. I, for one, will be there. I hope that you will, too.

For more information on the lagoon (or to check the facts I stated), check out the St. Johns River Water Management District’s website for the lagoon here. All of the facts listed come from this website. Also, fellow blogger Philip (Ph.D. in biological sciences) wrote a great blog post on his crab research and more about the Hands Across the Lagoon event.

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