Graduate Students are Building a Solution for the Indian River Lagoon

If you ask a team of ocean engineering students if they want to design and build a dredge to help the ailing Indian River Lagoon, it’s unlikely you would get a no from Florida Tech students.

This is true for graduate students Leigh Provost, Hannah Grisanti and Ryan Christiansen.

Ocean engineering professor Dr. Robert Weaver presented the students an unique opportunity to design, build and deploy a dredging system to specifically address the overwhelming build-up of muck in the Indian River Lagoon.

Muck is a thick mixture of nitrogen and phosphorous that chokes the life out of the Indian River Lagoon. Muck covers sea grass and is a significant contributor to oxygen-sucking algae blooms. This chain reaction is caused mostly by fertilizer run-off from increased development, which builds muck, which creates algal blooms which causes an eco-system collapse, killing off massive amounts of marine life.

When life gives you muck, you make muck-aid.
Kind of.

Experiments conducted by Provost found muck that has been put through a series of treatments creates a beneficial slurry that supports plant growth. Essentially the muck gets recycled back into a fertilizer. Which is currently a bit of a double-edge sword since local sod companies have shown the most interest in acquiring the recycled muck, which eventually will end up right back in the river.  If that supply-chain could be adjusted, there is a potential for a win-win solution.

“It does its job as fertilizer, which is nice to know that it can be recycled like that,” said Provost.

Getting the muck out of the Indian River Lagoon

Provost, along with fellow graduate students Hannah Grisanti and Ryan Christiansen are also tackling the other end of the problem, getting the muck out of the river. While traditional dredging techniques focus on the larger parts of the river, the team’s design is addressing the removal of muck in hard to reach areas. Their compact dredge design can maneuver between docks and inside more narrow canals, with a controlled flow rate that only pulls out the muck and not the beneficial sediments and sea grasses.

“This project is part of the environmental muck dredging funds that we’ve been receiving from Florida Department of Environmental Protection through Brevard County.  So, we are working very closely with our county partners, to get the muck out,” said Dr. Weaver

Learn more about the Indian River Lagoon Here.

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