One Lagoon, Once Voice:

Your Quarterly Guide to IRLNEP News and Progress

From Duane’s Desk

Happy New Year! It’s hard to believe that it’s January 2024 and the IRLNEP has already entered the second quarter of our fiscal year. Time flies by when you are having fun and doing good work. The IRLNEP staff have been very busy. The program funded and is administering eight new (FY 2024) water quality improvement projects, four habitat restoration projects (one includes support for five IRL seagrass nursery sites), two projects that support living resources and nine projects that support healthy communities or enhanced communication, collaboration and coordination. Our GIS/IT Data Scientist, KJ Ayres-Guerra, has developed and posted an interactive IRL Council Master Project Map 1.0 that provides information from all projects funded by the IRL Council/ IRLNEP from 2016 to 2023. Please check out the map at https://onelagoon.org/master-project-map-1-0/. We encourage suggestions and comments to guide us as we move to the next iteration of the map. Another important news item is that the IRLNEP is already preparing for 2025. Requests for Proposals were issued for four categories of projects (i.e., Water Quality, Habitat Restoration, Community-Based Restoration and Science and Innovation). IRLNEP Management Conference proposal review committees are evaluating and ranking the proposals. The ranked lists will be presented to the entire Management Conference and IRL Council Board of Directors for review and funding recommendations during our February quarterly meetings. The 2024 IRL Management Conference meeting schedule is posted at https://onelagoon.org/meeting-schedule/. Lastly, if you would like to have a presentation from one of our three regional Communication Engagement Coordinators please reach out to Jessy Wayles (wayles@irlcouncil.org) for Volusia and North Brevard Counties, Heather Stapleton (stapleton@irlcouncil.org) for South Brevard and Indian River Counties, or Caleta Scott (scott@irlcouncil.org) for St. Lucie and Martin Counties.

2024 Fiscal Year Project Update

Photo Credit: The University of West Florida

October 2023 kicked off the Indian River Lagoon Council’s 2024 fiscal year. This fiscal year we are funding eight water quality projects, four habitat restoration projects, two living resources projects, nine projects that support healthy communities as well as our small grants program.

Among the water quality projects is the addition of two Atmospheric Deposition Monitoring Stations. These stations will monitor meteorological conditions in Canaveral National Seashore, Sebastian Inlet State Park, and Indian Riverside Park. This project is vital to better understand the role of atmospheric deposition in the IRL’s nutrient budget.

In the Habitat Restoration group, the SE Illinois Avenue Living Shoreline Project in Stuart will provide filtration for stormwater runoff while providing habitat for marine species and preventing erosion. The living shoreline will be accessible to the community and is important for the City to continue progress towards resiliency and meeting BMAP requirements for the St. Lucie River.

Photo Credit: Floridalivingshorelines.com

To continue providing data and information to the community, the IRLNEP is continuing to fund the Indian River Lagoon Biodiversity Inventory and Harmful Algal Bloom monitoring. The IRL Biodiversity Inventory was developed by developed by the Smithsonian Marine Station in partnership with the IRLNEP since 2000. Funding will expand the website’s capabilities to make use of new techniques in identifying and curating collections; maintain and expand the Species Inventory database; improve its functionality; and communicate its availability as a learning tool to students, resource managers and the academic community. Access the species inventory at https://irlspecies.org/.

Funding for the Harmful Algal Bloom Task Force supports continuing IRL algae and cyanobacteria monitoring by the University of Florida, which monitors 5 northern and central IRL locations, and FAU-Harbor Branch, which monitors 5 southern locations. When HABs are detected, relevant state agencies and the IRLNEP are notified, species are identified to the lowest taxon possible and quantified.

Photo Credit: WMFE HAB

The small grants program provides funding between $500-$5000 for IRL-focused community engagement and education, stewardship activities, water quality improvement, habitat restoration and science, technology or educational activities. These funds are frequently used by students, local teachers, and small NGOs to support community projects. To learn more about 2024 funding, our goals, and future plans please visit OneLagoon.org to learn more about our FY 2024 Business Implementation Plan.

Management Conference Quarterly Meetings

The  IRLNEP Management Conference conducted its most recent quarterly meetings in November.  The Finance Subcommittee, the Management Board and the STEM Advisory Committee met at Up the Creek Farms in Grant-Valkaria on Tuesday, November 14, 2023, beginning at 9 a.m. The Citizen’s Advisory Committee met at Sebastian City Hall on November 16, 2023, at 1:30 p.m. The IRL Council Board of Directors met on November 17, 2023, at Sebastian City Hall at 9:30 a.m. All meeting packets and minutes can be found at: 2023 Meeting History.

Management Board, the STEM Advisory Committee and the Board of Directors during water quality reports

Finance Subcommittee

Finance sub-committee members recommended expanding funding for the IRLNEP Small Grants program, using bank interest to cover costs. This will encourage more schools and community groups to submit proposals. The small grants request for proposals (RFP) will go out in early January 2024.

Daniel Kolodny reported the City of Sebastian agreed to the IRL Council renting the second floor of the Historic Sebastian School.

Management Board and Science, Technology, Engineering & Monitoring Advisory Committee

Duane De Freese, executive director, presented the IRL Council’s legislative priorities for the year 2024. These priorities cover both federal and state levels and aim to support the goals of the watershed in the upcoming legislative cycle. Dr. De Freese emphasized that the NEP does not engage in lobbying activities.

MOA with Brevard Zoo “Dollar for Conservation”

During the discussion, Dr. De Freese outlined the terms of the agreement. The plan is to collect one dollar from each admission ticket sale at the proposed aquarium to generate funds for an IRLNEP Request for Proposal. The guests of the aquarium will have input on how the dollar will be used (habitat, restoration, species recovery, etc.).

Science Priorities 2030 (STEM Advisory Committee only)

Dr. De Freese discussed the plan to reintroduce the Science Priorities 2030 document with the help of Dr. Charles Jacoby, University of South Florida. The primary focus of the document will be on research. The committee members expressed their support for this initiative.

Water Quality Reports

The St. John’s Water Management District (SJRWMD) and The South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) presented water quality reports to the Management Board, the STEM Advisory Committee and the Board of Directors.

North and Central IRL Conditions

The water depths throughout remained stable, with an increase in October due to a rain event. Water temperatures have been dropping and reduced phytoplankton blooms, with occasional short-lived spikes. The salinity levels remain in the brackish range. Dissolved oxygen levels remain stable.

Ms. Lauren Hall, SJRWMD, explained that the central IRL is experiencing a diatom bloom with no major consequences. The southern Mosquito Lagoon is experiencing a mixed assemblage algal bloom that has caused a decline in water clarity. However, because the seagrass in this area is in substantially shallow water, it seems to be getting enough sunlight to hold its own. The bloom has significantly lowered dissolved oxygen. SJRWMD will continue monitoring. The northern end of Mosquito Lagoon is clear.

Southern IRL Conditions

Dr. Melanie Parker and Kathy LaMartina, SFWMD, reported that no inflow from Lake Okeechobee into the estuary has occurred since mid-April. Most freshwater flow has been from the tidal basin. Salinity has increased at all monitoring sites and the A1A Bridge site was in the upper stressful range. Salinities had briefly fallen into the lower stressful range in early October at the US1 site but recovered quickly. Oyster spat recruitment shows a slight peak in October. Seagrass growth at the St. Lucie Inlet and Willoughby Creek has been increasing gradually at both sites since 2021, with the most growth at the St. Lucie site where shoal grass dominates.

The Management Board, the STEM Advisory Committee and the Board of Directors during water quality reports

Presentation: Indian River County’s Lagoon Management Plan

Melissa Meisenburg, Senior Lagoon Environmental Specialist from Indian River County, presented the Indian River County’s Lagoon Management Plan. Ms. Meisenburg explained the research and review phase and the plan development, including robust public review and comments. The plan is now in the implementation phase and will undergo annual updates.

Presentation: Brevard County Seagrass Restoration Protocol

Jennifer Hansen, an Environmental Scientist at Brevard County Natural Resources Management, discussed the Brevard County Seagrass Restoration Protocol. Ms. Hansen explained the purpose, objectives, and conceptualization of the protocol. The methods involved gathering relevant data on seagrass growth and survival, assessing the risks, and developing a relative suitability map based on the criteria. The goal of the risk-based experimentation was to plant seagrasses successfully.

Presentation: NOAA Restoration Center Bipartisan Infrastructure Law & Inflation Reduction Act Funding Updates

Kris Kaufman from the Restoration Center of NOAA Fisheries discussed the Office of Habitat Competitive Funding Opportunities supported by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law & Inflation Reduction Act. The update covered the history of partnering on habitat conservation and provided an overview of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and Inflation Reduction Act. The first round of awards has been completed. The second round is now open. Ms. Kaufman also provided an overview of the four competitions in round two. to learn more about the opportunities available: Habitat Restoration Under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and Inflation Reduction Act | NOAA Fisheries.

Citizen’s Advisory Committee

Indian River County’s Lost Tree Island Conservation Area

Beth Powell, Indian River County Parks, Recreation & Conservation Director, presented an update on the Lost Tree Islands Restoration and Enhancement Project, which the IRL Council partially funded. Beth Powell started with a brief history of the land acquisition. The focus has been habitat restoration and enhancement with invasive species removal and re-vegetation on Duck Head and Earman Islands. The project continues in phases.

Engaging with the CECs in 2024

Kathy Hill requested that the Citizens Advisory Committee give input on maximizing the value of the Community Engagement Coordinators and on making the committee members’ time more engaging. Additionally, Kathy Hill asked the committee to submit events and/or presentations in which the CAC would like to have the CECs participate. The committee discussed engaging citizens and businesses, correcting misinformation, creating content for publications and news outlets, as well as hosting community meetings and listening sessions.

IRL Council Board of Directors

Board of Directors thanking Tom Carey for his work and dedication to the Management Conference. Credit to K. Hill.

The week of quarterly meetings concluded with the IRL Council Board of Directors meeting. The directors began by thanking and congratulating Tom Carey on his exemplary service on the IRLNEP Management Board. Board members recognized Tom’s eight years of perfect attendance. Tom Carey said it had been a privilege to serve and thanked the IRLNEP staff and Dr. De Freese. 

Each committee chair (Mr. Tom Carey, Dr. Chuck Jacoby, and Mr. Frank Catino) presented their respective committee reports from the week.

The Board of Directors unanimously incorporated the recommendations from the Management Conference: accepting the Memorandum of Agreement between the IRL Council and the Brevard Zoo providing for the development and implementation of the “Dollar for Conservation” program; and adopting IRL Council Legislative Priorities for 2024. The Board authorized Dr. De Freese to represent the IRL Council in legislative policy discussions and appropriations. 

Executive Director’s annual evaluation

Mr. Glen Torcivia, Esq. presented the annual evaluation of the Executive Director, Dr. Duane De Freese. The results were outstanding, with perfect scores and comments that praised the work accomplished.

The Board approved the following Management Conference Appointments:

STEM Advisory Committee 

  • Hannah Herrero, University of Tennessee at Knoxville and Lagoon Watermen Alliance
  • Lauren Hall, St. John’s River Water Management District
  • Derek Tremain, FWC, to replace Rich Paperno on the STEM Committee 
  • Loraé Simpson, Florida Oceanographic Society, to STEM Committee 
  • Chuck Jacoby, affiliation change from SJRWMD to University of South Florida 

Citizens Advisory Committee

  • Ashley Weber, Lagoon Watermen Alliance
  • Thom Jones, St. Lucie County Education Foundation
  • Nickie Munroe, University of Florida/IFAS

To view the Board of Directors’ meeting click the link: November 17, 2023 – Indian River Lagoon Council Meeting (youtube.com)

NEWS FROM THE FRONT… Holiday Edition

Local Government Happenings

It’s that time of the year again… when our municipal partners share their legislative priorities and appropriation requests to the state. See below for highlights from partner counties. Be sure to check out the stocking stuffer – the Sebastian Inlet Economic Impact Study. Cheers to a merry and bright 2024!

Volusia County recognizes the value of regional collaboration and the sharing of resources in achieving success among organizations dedicated to water quality.

The county:

  • Seeks continued FDEP partnership on water quality projects that are necessary to protect our springs, imperiled rivers, and the Indian River Lagoon.
  • Supports streamlining the legal process and providing funds for the law enforcement process to remove abandoned vessels from the St. Johns River and the Intercoastal Waterway.
  • Supports the Indian River Lagoon Council Legislative Program, absent conflicts.

At their November 7, 2023, meeting, Volusia County Council discussed the priorities and mentioned appropriation requests that will be finalized soon. Stay tuned and Save The Date for the State of the County Address on February 14, 2024.

Sebastian Inlet Economic Impact Study

Sebastian Inlet’s annual impact on the region is $1.1 billion. Talk about IMPACT! For more information, visit https://www.sitd.us/ 

Economic Analysis of Sebastian Inlet Economic Impact Study graphic
Economic Benefits of Sebastian Inlet Economic Impact Study graphic

 St. Lucie County – 2024 Legislative Program  

St. Lucie County’s Government Relations provides policy recommendations for the County’s high priority issues, creates annual legislative priorities, and monitors legislative issues. See the 2024 State Legislative Program PDF.

  • Ten Mile Creek C23/C24 STA (Stormwater Treatment Areas) and Reservoir is a critical component of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Program (CERP) and part of the Indian River Lagoon-South (IRL-S) suite of projects.
  • The Port of Fort Pierce is requesting $10M in funding for property acquisition. If acquired, the land and strategic adjacent parcels will be critical in future development of the Port and St. Lucie County’s development of a regional stormwater solution for the undeveloped portions of the Port.
  • The county supports key investments into Environmental and Natural Resources that protect Florida’s fragile environment, strengthens our resilience against the impacts of climate change, addresses the stresses and impacts of continued growth on our Lagoon, lakes, rivers, streams, beaches, and ocean.
Aerial view of North Bridge SLC

Martin County – 2024 Legislative Priorities 

Martin County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) continues to work closely with its state legislative delegation to advance the priorities that serve the best interests of Martin County residents and visitors.

Appropriation Requests:

  • $7 Million – Bessey Creek Capacity Improvements
  • $1.5 Million – Kitching Creek Eastern Flow Way Restoration

Priorities & Policy Statements:

  • Conservation Land Acquisition
  • Septic to Sewer Conversion
  • Biosolids
  • Dedicated coral reef funding and Florida Resilient Coastlines Program
  • Support the Indian River Lagoon National Estuary Program’s legislative priorities.
  • Support the Loxahatchee Regional Preservation Initiative (LRPI)
  • Support legislation that protects natural resources and the environment. The County will continue advocacy efforts to reduce Lake Okeechobee discharges to the Indian River Lagoon and the St. Lucie River.
  • Support an annual funding source at a minimum of $50 million for statewide beach renourishment and inlet management projects.

The full 12-page document can be found here.

IRLNEP Master Project List

Curious about past and present projects going on within the lagoon? Check out our new Master Project Map!

This interactive map represents all IRL Council projects from 2016 to 2023. Individual points on the map can be clicked to learn more about the project information including the project summary, partners, completion status, funding source and amount, and vital signs category.

Click here to view and interact with the map.

What happens when you encourage young people to think about solutions to the problems in the Indian River Lagoon? Well, for Erin Gaydar, Brevard County native, her project “Abolition of Unfurling Nutrients is the Solution for Elimination of Microalgae in the Indian River Lagoon”, has garnered international recognition and a feature on National Geographic’s’ “Science Fair: The Series.”

As a senior at Edgewater High School, Erin produced three different methods: phosphate binding, oyster mat simulation and live clams acting as a natural filter. She competed against 80 other countries, regions and territories at the International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) in May 2022.

Now, as a college student at University of South Florida, she is proud of her work and the international spotlight on the IRL (Indian River Lagoon). We are proud of you, too, Erin! Keep up the great work!

Watch the YouTube trailer! ICYMI – National Geographic debuted the show on December 10, but you can still watch it on Disney+ and Hulu.

Senior at Edgewater High School, Erin Gaydar presenting her project her project “Abolition of Unfurling Nutrients is the Solution for Elimination of Microalgae in the Indian River Lagoon”

Looking for a fun and engaging way to teach your students about the environment and natural resources? Want to challenge them to think critically and creatively about complex issues? Want to give them a chance to compete for scholarships, prizes, and recognition at the state or international level?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, consider forming an Envirothon team at your school, youth club or community group.

Envirothon is a natural resource education program and competition that encourages students to learn about aquatic ecology, forestry, soils and land use, wildlife, and current environmental issues. And of course, the regional IRL Envirothon competition always includes a chance for our local students to delve in to the Indian River Lagoon, too!

Envirothon incorporates STEM principles, hands-on learning, and field experiences, where students can learn from natural resource professionals and apply their knowledge and skills.

The top teams from each state, province, and partner nation are eligible to attend the NCF-Envirothon’s annual international competition, where they can compete against the best of the best for thousands of dollars in scholarships and awards. The NCF-Envirothon’s competition is hosted in a different U.S. state or Canadian province each year, exposing students to diverse environmental issues, ecosystems, and topography.

Envirothon is more than just a competition. It is a learning experience that fosters student leadership, teamwork, problem-solving, and communication skills. It is a program that empowers students to educate others, take action in their local communities, pursue study in environmental disciplines, and work toward careers in the environment, natural resources, and conservation.

If you are interested in forming a local Envirothon team, visit: https://www.irlenvirothon.org/.

If you have questions, feel free to email Community Engagement Coordinator, Heather Stapleton at stapleton@irlcouncil.org.

2023 IRL Envirothon Winners from Edgewood Jr-Sr High School
Students during an activity at 2023 IRL Envirothon soils station

Deadline to apply: Wednesday, February 14, 2024

What: Indian River Lagoon Regional Envirothon (Martin, Okeechobee, St Lucie, Brevard and Indian River Counties)

When: Wednesday, March 6, 2024 (beginning at 8 am)

Where: Environmental Learning Center, 255 Live Oak Drive, Vero Beach FL 32963