One Lagoon, Once Voice:

Your Quarterly Guide to IRLNEP News and Progress

From Duane’s Desk

The winter of 2024 was a predictable El Niño winter in Florida: cooler but not cold; more cloudy and wetter than most winters, with intense and unpredictable rainfall events. When we have lots of rainfall, we often overlook the fact that stormwater canals, ground water, tributaries and drainage canals will continue conveying freshwater and pollution from land to surface waters for days, weeks, or even months.

Groundwater seepage can transport nutrients and pollutants from septic tank drain fields and leaky sewer pipes to the Indian River Lagoon (IRL). Before human development, rainfall was filtered slowly through miles of wetlands throughout the IRL watershed. Once coastal development ramped up in the 1960s, this natural filtration system became severely compromised by decades of land alteration that destroyed wetlands to accommodate human infrastructure and development.

Today, our stormwater infrastructure pushes large volumes of freshwater off our driveways, roads and parking lots into drainage ditches and canals. These pulses of freshwater dramatically alter salinity and can threaten the survival of estuarine species like oysters, clams, seagrasses and our economically valuable fisheries. These impacts can be most damaging to sensitive larval or juvenile life cycle stages.

Recurring large-scale discharges of fresh water from Lake Okeechobee presents a similar problem. To alleviate pressure on the dike surrounding the lake, the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers sometimes discharges water from the lake west to the Caloosahatchee River and east to the St. Lucie Estuary, a major tributary of the IRL. In February, elevated water levels in Lake Okeechobee forced the release of about 1.2 billion gallons of lake water per day to the St. Lucie Estuary and southern IRL. This volume of freshwater has catastrophic impact to estuarine health and often brings with it toxic algal blooms.

As we move toward Florida’s wet season, warming waters, increased sunlight and continuing nutrient pollution represent a perfect storm of conditions that could potentially fuel harmful algal blooms and threaten water quality, environmental quality and human health. The IRLNEP and our partners are working to monitor conditions in the IRL and report problems as soon as they arise. We host monthly calls with representatives from federal, state and local agencies, as well as university and NGO partners to ensure everyone is well informed. Should HABs occur, calls will become more frequent and partners will work closely to monitor and report on conditions. In the meantime, we are hoping for another year of relatively good water quality in the lagoon that will allow seagrasses to continue to recover and provide food and essential habitat for many IRL species.

Restoring Nature’s Balance: Lost Tree Islands Conservation Area Project Update

 Exciting news for nature lovers and environmental enthusiasts! Restoration efforts are in full swing on the Lost Trees Islands in Indian River County. The Lost Tree Islands are a part of the Lost Tree Island Conservation Area (LTICA), which covers 508 acres of land including upland areas, wetlands, and submerged land. In the northern part of the LTICA, you’ll find the Indian River Malabar to Vero Beach State Aquatic Preserve. Way back in 1883, maps showed that the islands and wetlands in LTICA were naturally made. But things changed when the Intra-Coastal Waterway nearby was dredged. All that digging led to extra dirt, or “spoil,” being dumped onto the islands. The restoration project, divided into phases, aims to revitalize the Lost Tree Islands Conservation Area. Phases 1 through 3 have been completed and Phase 4 is currently underway.

Phase 4 is all about enhancing the beauty and biodiversity of this beloved property. What’s even better? Approximately 14 acres on Earman island’s western side will undergo a transformation. We’re talking mechanical treatment and replanting with native species.

But wait, what’s mechanical treatment? It’s a fancy term for preparing the land to welcome new plants while keeping out pesky invasive species. For at least six months, the treated areas will be closely managed to make sure only the native plants grow. Additional native plants, selected to thrive in the island’s wetlands and hammock areas, will be planted during the wet season from June through October, ensuring maximum survival.

But why go through all this trouble? By creating and enhancing transitional wetlands, coastal hammocks, and estuarine wetlands, the project is boosting biodiversity and providing quality habitat for animals and plants. Plus, we’re saying goodbye to those invasive species and welcoming back native plants with open arms. It’s a win-win for nature and for people.

So, let’s celebrate this progress and look forward to a greener, healthier Earman Island and Indian River Lagoon!

Management Conference Quarterly Meetings

The IRL Council Management Conference conducted its most recent quarterly meetings in February 2024.  The Finance Subcommittee, the Management Board and the STEM Advisory Committee met at the Historic Sebastian Public School on Tuesday, February 6, 2024, beginning at 9 a.m. The Citizen’s Advisory Committee met in the same location on Thursday, February 8, 2024, at 1:30 p.m. The IRL Council Board of Directors met on Friday, February 9, 2024, at Sebastian City Hall at 9:30 a.m. All meeting packets and minutes can be found at:  Meeting Schedule – Indian River Lagoon (onelagoon.org)

Management Conference Elections

The Finance Subcommittee elected Stu Glass, Space Coast League of Cities, as the Chair and Tom Campenni, Treasure Coast League of Cities, as Vice Chair.

The Management Board elected Beth Powell, Indian River County Parks Recreation and Conservation as Chair and Terri Breeden, Brevard County Natural Resources as Vice Chair.

The Science, Technology, Engineering and Monitoring Advisory Committee elected Dr. Chuck Jacoby, University of South Florida, as Chair and Chad Truxall, Marine Discovery Center, as Vice Chair.

The Citizens’ Advisory Committee elected Frank Catino, City of Satellite Beach, as Chair and Tess Sailor-Tynes, Marine Discovery Center, as Vice Chair

Water Quality Reports

Representatives from the St. Johns 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.

Northern & Central IRL

Ms. Lauren Hall (SJRWMD) reported typical water quality conditions for this time of year – lower winter depths, typical dissolved oxygen and increased turbidity in the shallower areas (due to wind). She also reported short term dips in salinity and temperatures associated with rainfall and cold front events. She reported no substantial algal bloom activity but did note short-lived algal blooms that spiked in the Eau Gallie portion of the central IRL.

Southern IRL

Dr. Melanie Parker (SFWMD) reported that freshwater discharges spiked due to rainfall events, with the largest amounts originating from the Tidal Basin. To date, no Lake Okeechobee discharges had occurred since April 2023, though, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was planning to begin releasing water from the lake in later March.

The juvenile oyster (spat) recruitment rates showed a small peak from August through October; it is typical to see lower recruitment rates late in the year when water temperatures cool.

Presentation:

Dr. Holly Sweat, Smithsonian Marine Station, presented “The Indian River Lagoon Species Inventory: 30 Years of Cataloging Biodiversity.” The project originated at the Indian River Lagoon Biodiversity Conference in 1994. By 1997, the Smithsonian Marine Station became the repository of the IRL Species Inventory, a listing of more than 2,000 species that inhabited the IRL. The IRL Species Inventory online portal went live in 2000. Thanks to continuing funding from the IRLNEP, the inventory has been able to expand, and now lists nearly 10,000 species inhabiting the IRL. Emerging technologies are expected to improve database capabilities in the future. Dr. Sweat gave a short tutorial on how to use the species inventory website and outlined plans for future educational functionality. Explore the IRL Species Inventory at IRLSpecies.org.

The Management Board, the STEM AC and the Citizens’ Advisory Committee all recommended:

  • Approving revised Memorandum of Agreement with Brevard Zoo “Dollar for Conservation,”
  • Approving Fiscal Year 2024 Budget Amendment,
  • Approving Fiscal Year 2025 EPA Workplan,
  • Approving Fiscal Year 2025 Tentative Budget, and
  • Approving the final ranked list of FY 2025 proposals (list
    below).

For additional details, all meeting packets and minutes can be found at: Meeting Schedule – Indian River Lagoon (onelagoon.org)

IRL Council Board of Directors

Jeff Brower, Volusia County Council, was elected as Chair, Joe Earman, Indian River County Commission as Vice Chair, and Stacey Hetherington, Martin County Commission, as Secretary.

The outgoing Chair, Chris Dzadovsky, St Lucie County Commission, was thanked for his service and presented with a custom gavel mounted to a red mangrove prop root. Mr. Dzadovsky thanked all for the opportunity to work with the Board and the staff and looked forward to continuing this work.

Dr. Mark Rains from Florida Department of Environmental Protection was welcomed, and he expressed his support for continued funding for the IRL under the current governor and legislature. He encouraged the group to choose projects that would provide the biggest benefit in building a solid foundation.

Projects & Proposals

Daniel Kolodny announced that 5 projects completed in the first quarter, with 45 in progress. He presented the 2025 project rankings that had been vetted through the Management Board, STEM, and Citizens’ Advisory committees and recommended for funding. Daniel thanked the 47 volunteer reviewers for their hard work and stated that this year was marked by receipt of strong proposals and tight scoring, including a few ties.

With recommendations from the committees, the Board of Directors approved funding for the following proposed projects:

  • Reconstruction of A-14 Water Control Structure in Port St. Lucie, FL (City of Port Saint Lucie)
  • ​Assisting Priority Area Homeowners in Connecting to Sewer​ (Clean Water Coalition of Indian River County)
  • Septic to Sewer Conversions to Reduce Nitrogen Pollution in Known Hot Spots in the City of Port St. Lucie (City of Port Saint Lucie​)​
  • One-Mile of Living Shoreline Enhancement in Volusia County (Riverside Conservancy)
  • Monitoring Mature Oyster Restoration Projects in the Indian River Lagoon and St. Lucie Estuary for Practitioner Application​ (Florida Oceanographic Society)
  • Restore Our Shores: Community-Based Buffer Zone Installation in the Indian River Lagoon​ (Brevard Zoo​)
  • Developing a Citizen Science/Outreach Program for Homeowners Associations (HOAs) to Improve Stormwater Pond Management and Reduce Stormwater Pollution Entering the Indian River Lagoon (Brevard County)
  • Buffered & Living Shoreline Demonstration Project: Engaging the Public in Habitat Restoration (Ocean Research and Conservation Association, Inc.)​
  • Reducing Debris in the IRL Revitalization of the Monofilament Recycling Program Across Indian River County​ (Coastal Connections, Inc.)
  • Development of a Rapid Diagnostic Assay for Detecting Paralytic Shellfish Toxins in Populations of the Harmful Algal Bloom Species Pyrodinium bahamense in the Indian River Lagoon (University of Maryland, Baltimore County)
  • Suffocating Sand: Mapping Hypoxia and its Impacts on Benthic Nutrient Fluxes and Sediment Chemistry in IRL. Year 3. (Florida Institute of Technology)
  • Understanding Changes in Sediment Chemistry to Improve Seagrass Restoration Success (Florida Institute of Technology)

Access the full IRL Council Board of Directors Meeting here: February 9, 2024 – Indian River Lagoon Council Meeting (youtube.com)

NEWS FROM THE FRONT

Local Government Happenings

The work done by local governments within the IRL watershed is integral on our pathway to a healthy lagoon and CCMP implementation. We commend our municipal partners for their commitment, hard work and dedication. 

Volusia County and City of Oak Hill partner to provide new wastewater service.

At the March 5, 2024 County Council meeting, Volusia County entered into an interlocal agreement with the City of Oak Hill to provide wastewater service to the Indian Harbor Estates Development located on the Mosquito Lagoon within the City of Oak Hill. This agreement meets county strategic goals to: (1) increase efficiency and effectiveness of government operations, and (2) support a solution-oriented culture. The operation of a centralized wastewater collection system within the Indian Harbor Estates community has been in the works since a 2019 memorandum of understanding (MOU). The remediation project was listed as the top water quality priority in the Mosquito Lagoon Reasonable Assurance Plan.   

With construction now complete, the County will operate and maintain the City’s sewer collection system in its entirety and will bill for monthly service availability and usage fees to ensure sufficient repayment of the City’s debt obligation. There are financial incentives for both City and County to encourage residential connections. The interlocal agreement was approved at the City of Oak Hill Commission meeting on February 26, 2024. Stayed tuned by keeping up with Volusia County and City of Oak Hill municipalities!

Cocoa Beach Jr./Sr. High Aquascience Program (CBAS) seeks partners at Brevard’s Citizen Oversight Committee meeting.

At the February 16, 2024, Save Our Indian River Lagoon (SOIRL) Citizen Oversight Committee meeting, Mr. Cole Manns, Assistant Principal at Cocoa Beach Jr./Sr. High, excitedly shared a presentation to share a new resource  available in Brevard County Public Schools and gave a call to action for local partners.  

The new Career and Technical Education (CTE) Aquascience Program is in its first year at Cocoa Beach, which is located right on the Banana River. In its first year, the 9th and 10th grade curriculum includes Agriscience Foundation and Aquaculture 2-4. Each year, students will receive industry certifications, such as Agriculture Associate, Aquaculture Technician, and a soon to be added Life System Support and Pool Certification.   

The coursework includes history, applied science, biological principles, research, lab-based education, leadership skills and career advice. Student testimonials highlighted their interest in aquaculture, biotechnology and their love for the IRL, which is great for our local lagoon-centered workforce.  

The CBAS initiatives include a floating dock on the Banana River, an outdoor classroom, and a 1300 square foot Aqualab. Future lab plans include fish, mangrove, mollusks, seagrass and Spartina aquaculture. Potential green stormwater infrastructure projects include updating parking lot areas with permeable pavement or other educational opportunities.  

The AquaScience Program is looking for partners both big and small to work on Florida Friendly Landscaping, rain gardens, green stormwater infrastructure, seawalls, and invasives removal. The SOIRL Committee thanked the vice-principal for his approach to gaining traction.  

To learn how you can help, contact Brevard County Public Schools. 

 

City of Vero Beach amends Utilities Ordinance for Sewer Connection Requirements 

House Bill 1379 requires any commercial or residential property with an existing septic system located within the Central Indian River Lagoon Basin Management Action Plan (BMAP) to connect to central sewer, if available, by July 1, 2030. At their March 26 meeting, the Vero Beach City Council took it a step further by unanimously voting to establish an earlier date of June 1, 2028, as recommended by the Utilities Commission in October 2023. The amendment allows for an organized transition from septic systems to a centralized STEP System and gives the city the ability to aid homeowners that would be unable to connect before the new deadline.   

Commission and public comments included gratitude to the City of Vero Beach for moving on a solution to the problem and to the Wlean water Coalition of Indian River for providing funding for low-income residents living within City of Vero Beach municipal boundaries. Shoutout to the City of Vero Beach for this important aspect of One Lagoon’s CCMP implementation! #WastewaterVitalSign  

Check out CTVB13 – City of Vero Beach Government Station to watch City of Vero Beach Council meetings! 

St. Lucie County’s Oxbow Eco-Center volunteer and stewardship opportunities!  

It takes a lot of volunteers to execute events big and small at the Oxbow Eco-Center in Port St. Lucie. On Saturday, April 20, 2024, St. Lucie County celebrates the 20th anniversary of its Earth Day Festival, which highlights unique eco-art, sustainable living ideas and community resources. This premier event showcases over 70 local organizations and businesses sharing hands-on activities throughout the gardens and trails of the preserve. Kids of all ages can meet local environmental groups, health professionals, law enforcement, foresters, gardeners, beekeepers and more. There’s adventure in the nature playscape and musical forest, live animal encounters, and an Eco-Challenge tent for the chance to win great festival prizes.  

Last year, over 120 volunteers made St. Lucie Earth Day a success! Individuals and volunteer groups are encouraged to sign up as Earth Day volunteers! If you’re reading this after April 20th, here are some areas where volunteers are needed all year round:   

  • Creative Art & Design 
  • St. Lucie County Preserve Pals  
  • Garden Facilities  
  • Archery Program  
  • Live Animal Care 
  • Recycling Ambassador  
  • Education Programs 
  • Community Outreach & Events   

To learn more, visit St. Lucie County Government! 

 

One Lagoon, One Symposium!

In February, the staff of the Indian River Lagoon NEP participated in the 13th annual Indian River Lagoon Symposium (IRLS). This event serves as a platform for various institutions and agencies to convene and discuss scientific research related to the Indian River Lagoon, as well as strategies for its conservation. The IRLS was initiated in 2012 with the aim of bridging the gap between scientific research and the practical implementation of measures to enhance the lagoon’s health.

This year, the focus of the symposium was on the fish species inhabiting the Indian River Lagoon. Given the lagoon’s diverse ecosystem supporting a wide array of fish, from small species to large predators, this theme holds significant importance. Fishing plays a crucial role in our local economy and cultural heritage, underscoring the importance of monitoring fish populations as an indicator of the lagoon’s overall health. Changes in fish populations can signal environmental issues such as pollution or habitat degradation.

During the symposium, one outstanding student was honored with the “IRLNEP Promising Young Scientist” award. This accolade recognizes a student who has demonstrated exceptional research contributions to the study of the lagoon. This year, Carla Persky from the University of Central Florida received the award for her research on the reproductive biology of Halodule wrightii, a sea grass species found in Mosquito Lagoon, Florida. Congratulations, Carla!

For those interested in delving deeper into the symposium’s discussions and presentations, Carla’s presentation and others can be accessed via the following link: https://fau.mediasite.com/Mediasite/Channel/2024-indian-river-lagoon-symposium/

Derelict vessels in the Indian River Lagoon and its tributaries are a significant environmental and navigational concerns. Abandoned or neglected vessels pose a threat to the health of the lagoon’s ecosystem, as they can leak harmful substances such as oil, fuel, and other hazardous materials. They also pose a risk to marine life, including manatees, dolphins, and a variety of fish species that call the lagoon home. Furthermore, these vessels can become navigational hazards, posing risks to other boats and watercraft in the area.

Efforts to remove these derelict vessels are ongoing and involve a collaboration between local, state, and federal agencies. The process includes identifying the vessels, locating the owners, and then either getting the owners to remove the vessels or having them removed by the authorities. The removed vessels are then properly disposed of to prevent further environmental harm. These efforts are crucial in preserving the health and beauty of the Indian River Lagoon, a cherished natural resource in Florida.

The Florida Vessel Turn-In Program (VTIP) offers a cost-free solution for owners of at-risk vessels to voluntarily surrender them to the FWC. These vessels are then removed from Florida waters and destroyed, with all costs covered by the program.

At-risk vessels can become derelict, posing safety and environmental hazards, and leading to higher removal costs and potential legal consequences for the owner. The VTIP proactively addresses this issue by removing vessels before they reach this stage.

Florida Vessel Turn-In Program | FWC

FWC Derelict Vessel Mapping Project Derelict Vessels Experience

Envirothon is an outdoor competition encouraging student interest in natural resource conservation and environmental management. It is a field-oriented event in which students, working in teams of five, learn to use critical thinking and communications skills, work as a team, and develop their problem-solving abilities to answer written and oral questions and conduct hands-on investigations in five study areas: aquatic ecology, forestry, soils and land use, wildlife, and a current environmental issue.

On March 6, 2024, over 120 students, broken out into 8 middle school and 15 high school teams, arrived at the Environmental Learning Cener to participate in the regional Indian River Lagoon Envirothon. Here are the results:

Overall Winner: Team Bio Bros

County Winners

Brevard: Red Wolves

Indian River: Team Bio Bros

St Lucie: Pretty, Pretty Princesses

County winners of the regional Indian River Lagoon Envirothon are eligible to compete in the statewide Florida Envirothon. Envirothon is the largest environmental competition in North America, involving over 500,000 high school students each year. The international competition hosts over 600 students, advisors, volunteers, and parents from the United States and 9 Canadian provinces. Teams compete for over $125,000 in scholarships and prizes.

The Indian River Lagoon National Estuary Program is proud to provide environmental education through competition and collaboration. We believe the children are our future. Teach them well and let them lead the way!

#OneVoice #OneLagoon #CitizenEngagement

Want to learn more about Envirothon? Visit www.irlenvirothon.com