One Lagoon, Once Voice:

Your Quarterly Guide to IRLNEP News and Progress

From Duane’s Desk

As Floridians, we don’t seem to embrace summer quite as tightly as our friends do up North. Maybe because, if they’re lucky, they get about 90 days of great beach weather while we can enjoy over nine months!

Florida’s long stretch of amazing weather creates a host of opportunities for outdoor fun. Whether at the beach or out on the lagoon, Floridians love to play. For most adults, summer vacations are a welcome break from the hectic lives we live the rest of the year. It’s a time to rest, recharge and relax. For kids, it’s a great time for learning and practicing a new sport or activity and for forging friendships that last a lifetime. For families, it’s a time to reconnect with each other and with more distant relatives and friends. Summer is for making memories!

No matter what you choose to do this summer, be aware that Florida’s extreme heat and humidity can pose health threats to people, pets, and even the plants and animals in the lagoon. If you’re going to spend time on the beach, hiking, fishing, surfing, boating, kayaking, or visiting Florida’s many tourist destinations, there are a few things to keep in mind so you and your family can safely enjoy the outdoors:

  • Protect yourself from the sun. Wear protective clothing, apply coral-safe sunscreens, wear a broad-brimmed hat and sunglasses.
  • Stay hydrated. Dehydration is often overlooked if you’re in the water swimming, surfing or diving. Don’t wait to be thirsty. Keep sipping that water.
  • Know the signs and symptoms of heat related stress. Act quickly at the first signs of heat exhaustion or heat stroke. Both can lead to death. See this link for more information and resources.
  • Watch the weather. Thunderstorms and lightning are almost everyday occurrences in Florida during the summer. Don’t take chances. If you’re on or near the water, seek shelter early when you see that rain is coming. Keep a weather app on your phone that can alert you to severe weather close by.
  • Time your fun. If the summer heat is too much for you, plan your outdoor fun to enjoy the outdoors earlier in the day or later in the evening when temperatures are more moderate.

We at the IRLNEP wish you all a fabulous, fun-filled summer and hope you spend at least a little time out enjoying a good time on the Indian River Lagoon.

Tucker Cove: A Beacon of Hope for Seagrass in the Indian River Lagoon

Imagine a place teeming with life, where lush seagrass meadows sway gently beneath the waves, providing shelter and food for countless marine creatures. This was once the reality in Tucker Cove, a part of the Indian River Lagoon (IRL) along Florida’s east coast. The IRL stretches across 40 percent of the state’s east coast. In 2011 a massive phytoplankton bloom wiped out 45 percent of the seagrass in the IRL, covering nearly 53,000 hectares. In the ensuing years, seagrasses have continued to struggle and have not yet recovered.

The loss of these seagrass meadows has had devastating effects. The IRL has suffered from increased algal blooms, marine mammal deaths, and fish kills. But there’s hope on the horizon with the completion of a project aimed at restoring two acres of native shoal grass (Halodule wrightii) in Tucker Cove, near Fort Pierce Inlet.

Bringing Life Back to Tucker Cove

Sea & Shoreline, LLC. is a Florida-based aquatic restoration firm with two decades of experience restoring fresh and saltwater habitats to healthy and self-sustaining ecosystems. Through IRLNEP grant funding, the Tucker Cove project is a beacon of hope for the IRL, utilizing proven methods to restore and protect vital seagrass beds.

Sea & Shoreline started by preparing 250 four-inch peat pot planting units. These grasses were carefully grown at their aquaculture nursery in Ruskin, FL. On installation day, the grasses were transported in coolers to protect them from wind and sun damage. Sea & Shoreline biologists, along with St. Lucie County volunteers, hand-planted the grasses in clusters of five, spaced 15 feet apart across the project area. To protect the young seagrass plants from being eaten by marine animals, Sea & Shoreline installed 50 “GrowSAV” Herbivory Exclusion Devices. These devices were transported to the site and carefully placed over clusters of planting units. Anchor rings were used to keep these devices stable, ensuring the seagrass has a chance to take root and grow.

In addition to the hand-planted units, Sea & Shoreline installed 10,000 mechanical planting units throughout the project area. These were also transported in coolers and installed by a dedicated team of biologists, divers, and volunteers. These grasses were spaced three feet apart, filling in the areas not already protected by the GrowSAV devices.

To ensure easy monitoring and to alert boaters and kayakers to the presence of the project, staff installed PVC marker poles near each GrowSAV device. These markers help protect the work from accidental damage and make it easier for the team to track progress.

A Plan for the Future

This project is more than just a restoration effort; it’s a blueprint for the future. By demonstrating effective seagrass planting techniques and protective measures, this project aims to create a model that can be used to restore other areas of the IRL and beyond. Sea & Shoreline’s work is crucial for the long-term health of the lagoon, supporting biodiversity, improving water quality, and providing essential habitat for marine life.

Join the Effort

The journey to restore the Indian River Lagoon is just beginning and we need your help. Whether you’re a scientist, a volunteer, or simply someone who cares about our planet, there’s a role for you in this vital mission. To learn more about ongoing projects, or how to get involved please visit OneLagoon.org

Management Conference Quarterly Meetings

The IRLNEP Management Conference conducted its most recent series of quarterly meetings in May. Meeting at the IRLNEP offices in Sebastian, Florida on Thursday, May 2, 2024, the Citizen’s Advisory Committee met at 1:30 p.m. The Finance Subcommittee, Management Board and STEM Advisory Committee each met at the IRLNEP offices on Tuesday, May 7, beginning at 9:00 a.m. The Board of Directors met on Friday, May 10 at Sebastian City Hall beginning at 9:30 a.m.

Citizen’s Advisory Committee

The Citizens Advisory Committee reviewed the final rankings of all proposals submitted under the Small Grants program for funding. Twenty-four projects were submitted. Eleven were ranked highly enough to receive funding. The Committee made the recommendation to the Management Board that the Board of Directors increase the Small Grants program Budget by $14,412 to fully fund all eleven projects.

The Committee reviewed the 2025 EPA Bipartisan Infrastructure Law Workplan and recommended that the Board of Directors authorize staff to finalize and submit the document to the EPA. They also reviewed the IRLNEP Science 2030 document and recommended that the Board accept the document and direct staff to release it. For details of all business conducted at the Citizens Advisory Committee meeting, view the Meeting Packet.

Finance Subcommittee

The Finance Subcommittee reviewed the quarterly financial reports. It also recommended to the IRL Management Board that the IRL Council Board of Directors approve the Fiscal Year 2025 Final Budget. For details of all business conducted at the Finance Subcommittee meeting, view the Meeting Packet.

 Management Board and the STEM Advisory Committees 

The Management Board and Stem Advisory Committee each made recommendations to the IRL Council Board of Directors to approve the Fiscal Year 2025 Final Budget. They also recommended the Board approve the final ranked list of Small Grant proposals and fund all eleven eligible projects as recommended by the Citizen’s Advisory Committee. Additionally, they reviewed the 2025 EPA Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) Workplan and IRLNEP Science 2030 document. They recommended that the Board should accept the Workplan and direct staff to submit it to the EPA; and that the Board should accept the Science 2030 document and direct staff to release it.

Both committees heard a presentation from research scientist, Dr. Kara Radabaugh, Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, on Monitoring Improved Hydrology, Water Quality, and Mangrove Recovery in the Jensen Beach Impoundment. This is a recently completed project funded in part by the IRLNEP.

For details of all business conducted at the Management Board meeting, view the Meeting Packet.

For details of all business conducted at the STEM Advisory Committee meeting, view the Meeting Packet.

IRL Council Board of Directors

The week of quarterly meetings concluded with the IRL Council Board of Directors meeting, which incorporated all the recommendations from the Management Conference.

The Board of Directors:

  • Approved minutes from their previous meeting;
  • Made four appointments to the Management Conference:
    • Melissa Meisenburg, Sr. Lagoon Environmental Specialist, Indian River County, to the Management Board;
    • Melisa Diolosa, Strategic Basin Planner, SJRWMD, to the Management Board, replacing Gretchen Kelly;
    • Elizabeth Kelly, Environmental Programs Coordinator, Martin County, changed to STEM Advisory Committee from Management Board; and,
    • Amy Eason, Environmental Resource Engineer, Martin County, to Management Board.
  • Approved the 2025 Final Budget;
  • Accepted the Management Conference recommendations to approve the final ranked list of Small Grants projects and fund the top eleven projects, increasing the Small Grants budget by $14,412;
  • Approved the BIL Workplan and directed staff to submit it to EPA;
  • Accepted the Science 2030 document, directing staff to release it;
  • Ruth Holms, Esq, Torcivia Law, reported to the Board on a recently passed legislative bill signed into law that allows for regional advisory committees to meet and vote utilizing communications media technology so long as appropriate public notice is given and a link for public participation is posted in the notice.
  • The Board also heard water quality, committee and staff reports, as well as Executive Director Duane De Freese’s quarterly report.

For details of all business conducted at the IRL Council Board of Directors meeting, view the Meeting Packet.

NEWS FROM THE FRONT

Local Government Happenings

We commend our municipal partners for their commitment, hard work and dedication to offering summertime fun opportunities for all!

Lyonia Educational Center’s Fun Summer Kicked Off in June!

Lyonia Educational Center has invited young adventurers to explore, create, and discover through its exciting array of summer camp programs. From the ecological wonders of “Feather Heads,” where campers delve into the lives of birds and flying creatures, to the artistic inspirations of “Creative Expressions,” blending nature with creativity, there’s something for every curious mind.

Adding to the excitement is “Science Masterminds,” where budding scientists don lab coats and safety glasses to conduct a series of fun and whacky experiments. Guided by enthusiastic educators, campers uncover the secrets of chemistry, physics, and biology through hands-on activities. Whether they’re concocting colorful chemical reactions, building simple machines, or exploring the microscopic world, every session sparks wonder and curiosity.

There’s still time to sign the kiddos up for camps in July and August! There’s also plenty of opportunity for all to enjoy like Popcorn and a Movie or join the Lyonia Photography Club on a hike. Lyonia Preserve is a joint project of Volusia County, the Volusia County School Board, and the State of Florida (Nice!). Its purpose is to provide environmental education to the public and to restore and maintain habitat for scrub-dependent wildlife.

Brevard County Parks and Recreation has Summer Covered from North to South!

Since April, Brevard County Parks and Recreation has been offering diverse camp experiences tailored for teens and individuals with disabilities across various areas in the North, Central, and South regions of the county. These camps highlight Brevard County’s commitment to community engagement and inclusivity, providing participants with opportunities to explore their passions and develop lifelong skills.

In Mims, Camp Inspiration, offered to ages 13-22, fosters personal growth and creates meaningful connections through a variety of activities tailored to different abilities. There’s Marine Biology Camp at Riverwalk Park in Rockledge, where hands-on experience deepens participant’s love for the IRL and its inhabitants. Nature Camp at Erna Nixon Park in West Melbourne provides participants with an opportunity to engage with nature firsthand, learning about local flora and fauna while enjoying outdoor activities.

These programs, including Traditional Day Camps countywide, offer a blend of recreational and educational opportunities designed to cater to the interests of young people across Brevard County. There are still openings available at various sites throughout the county. Visit Brevard County Parks and Recreation for more information.

Indian River County’s Spring/Summer Program Guide

Indian River County’s Spring/Summer Program Guide is packed with a variety of activities spread across its diverse facilities. Aquatics enthusiasts can enjoy programs at the Gifford Aquatic Center or North County Aquatic Center (NCAC), featuring swimming lessons for all ages, water aerobics, and lifeguard certification courses. Meanwhile, the Intergenerational Recreation Center in Vero hosts a range of fitness classes such as yoga and Pilates and there’s even senior walking clubs meeting at Victor Hart Sr. Community Enhancement Center. Seems like there is something to encourage everyone in Indian River County to get outside and move more!

Sports enthusiasts can participate in youth and adult leagues for basketball, tennis, pickleball and volleyball, fostering community spirit and healthy competition at Dick Bird South Co. Regional Park or West Wabasso Park. For those interested in marksmanship, the IRC Public Shooting Range in Sebastian offers programs catering to all skill levels under expert supervision. There’s even monthly Hunter Safety Training.

Conservation-minded individuals can find, and visit, the many habitats managed by the Conservation Land’s Division. From Indian River Lagoon Greenway, Jones’ Peir Conservation Area, or Archie Smith Fish House, it’s all there for our quality of life. You may also find educational workshops on local wildlife and ecosystems and volunteer opportunities for beach clean-ups and habitat restoration projects.

With facilities and programs tailored to diverse interests and ages, Indian River County ensures an enriching and engaging experience for residents and visitors alike during the vibrant spring and summer seasons. Peruse the Program Guide here and enjoy the outdoors!

Preserve Pals Camp at St. Lucie County’s Oxbow Eco-Center is a Hit!

The Preserve Pals Camp at Oxbow Eco-Center in Port St. Lucie, held from June 10 to June 14, was an enriching experience for young environmental enthusiasts. This camp, designed to foster a love for nature and environmental stewardship, offered participants an array of educational activities and hands-on experiences.

Kicking off at the Oxbow Eco-Center, campers learned the principles of “Leave No Trace,” emphasizing the importance of minimizing their impact on natural environments. The adventure continued with a visit to Wesley’s Island, where they discovered the fascinating world of oysters and their crucial role in the ecosystem.

The highlight of the camp was the trip to the Smithsonian Marine Station and St. Lucie Aquarium, providing an in-depth look at marine life and research. Campers also visited the Harbor Branch Discovery Center, gaining insight into marine science and conservation efforts. The PSL’s Water Treatment Facility tour offered a behind-the-scenes look at providing clean water to the community. A peaceful session of Lagoon Yoga was also an opportunity to provide students with some mindfulness while learning about estuaries.

Outdoor adventures included an exciting Swamp Buggy ride at Cypress Preserve and kayaking on the St. Lucie River from Becker Preserve. They were also rained out while learning about how stormwater works, go figure!

Throughout the week, campers met professionals from various partner agencies, including the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission, SLC’s Environmental Management and Solid Waste staff, Indian River Lagoon Aquatic Preserves (IRLAP), Leave No Trace, Oxbow’s Animal Ambassadors, City of Port St. Lucie, and IRLNEP. These partners were excited to inspire and spark genuine passion, sharing their backgrounds and insights into environmental careers. This immersive camp experience undoubtedly inspired the next generation of environmental caretakers.

Parks, Recreation, and Free Camps in Martin County! 

Martin County Parks and Recreation offers an array of summer camp options that cater to various interests and affordability. Among the highlights are the weekly specialty camps hosted at local parks, libraires and community centers. These camps cover a wide range of activities, from sports and outdoor adventures to arts and crafts, ensuring that every child can find a program that excites them.

We all know that Jensen Beach is a special little place along the IRL and the Jensen Beach Summer Camp is an affordable choice for families. A standout feature of this camp is the opportunity for children to take part in entry-level swimming lessons at Sailfish Splash Waterpark, which ensures that campers not only have fun but also develop essential swimming skills in a safe and supervised environment.

For families seeking cost-effective alternatives, Martin County’s public libraries, parks, and community centers provide free daily camps and activities throughout the summer. The Blake Library in Stuart and the Hoke Library in Jensen Beach are notable for their engaging programs. These libraries offer story time sessions, craft workshops, and educational activities that keep children intellectually stimulated and entertained. Additionally, parks such as Langford Park in Jensen Beach host free outdoor activities, including organized sports, nature walks, and environmental education programs.

Community centers across Martin County also contribute to the summer fun by offering free drop-in camps and events. These include structured playtimes, game days, and special guest presentations from local organizations. Activities like BINGO, bowling, dodgeball, trips to Lion Country Safari, and visits to the hitting bays at Sailfish Sands add to the excitement. Participants in these free programs are encouraged to bring lunch and a snack to ensure they stay energized throughout the day. The goal of these free programs is to ensure that all children, regardless of their family’s financial situation, have access to enriching summer experiences that foster learning and socialization.

This year, eleven organizations are set to receive grant funding through the Small Grants Program. These grants are more than just financial support; they are an investment in the community’s commitment to safeguarding the IRL. Each project funded represents a step towards a healthier, more vibrant lagoon, ensuring that future generations can enjoy its beauty and bounty.

The Small Grants Program supports the IRLNEP’s Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan (CCMP), which looks ahead to 2030 with ambitious goals for the lagoon. By funding small-scale, community-driven projects, the program empowers citizens to take direct action, fostering a sense of environmental responsibility and stewardship.

We are excited to be partnering with the following organizations this fiscal year as they work towards a healthier lagoon:

  • SWIRL: Analysis of Organic Compounds in IRL Stormwater: Analysis of Organic
  • Surfrider Space Coast: Ballard Park Restoration
  • ORCA: Buffered Shoreline-Storm Drain Project
  • Brevard Zoo: Lagoon Quest! Environmental Education
  • Stella Maris: Exploration Outreach Project
  • University of Central Florida: “Plastic Rain” in the Indian River Lagoon
  • The Zip Project: An Oyster Restoration Project
  • Marine Discovery Center: Project Plankton
  • St. Edwards School: IRL Water Quality and Biodiversity
  • Community Advocacy for Merritt Island: Syke Creek Clean up
  • Little Growers INC: Summer Earn & Learn Estuary Program

Stay tuned as we highlight these amazing projects and the passionate people behind them. Together, we can make a difference and help the Indian River Lagoon thrive once again.

Are you interested in living Lagoon-Friendly? One way could be to reduce your use of plastics. Heather Stapleton, our Central Community Engagement Coordinator, recently experimented with reducing her personal carbon footprint by removing plastics from her life. This is her account of how it went.

Recyclables are sent to processing facilities known as Material Recovery Facilities (MRFs). Visiting a MRF is an eye-opening experience, revealing the intricate and challenging world of recycling. The MRF separates recyclables through a combination of employee and sophisticated automated sorting systems. Not all items belong here. The MRF grapples with cross-contamination caused by “wish cycling”, where people toss in items they wish are recyclable, even if they’re not. Among the heaps, you’ll spot stray objects—a lone shoe, a broken toy, or a forgotten umbrella. These disrupt the sorting process, clogging conveyor belts and causing delays. Delays can even lead to recyclables being rerouted to a landfill. Sorting this mishmash becomes an enormous task.

Single stream recycling was intended to increase recycling rates, but overall, less is being recycled than ever, especially when it comes to plastic. Most plastic isn’t truly recycled, it’s downcycled – the quality of recycled plastic is often inferior, making it less desirable for manufacturers. Globally, only 9% of plastic gets recycled. The rest is burned, buried, or ends up in the environment, including the Indian River Lagoon. Plastic has managed to invade the most remote areas of our environment and has also been reported in several tissues of the human body. We keep making and buying more plastic, while recycling less of it.

I was so overwhelmed with my visit to the MRF that I decided then and there that I would make more of an effort to create less plastic waste and help others who are interested in trying the same. Like many, I gave up single-use plastic grocery bags a long time ago. And, most of my plastic waste comes from the kitchen and the bathroom.

For two and half months, I put myself on a strict plastic-free diet. I did not eliminate plastic altogether, but I made serious reductions. I was not perfect during the process, and I keep trying to get better. To stay accountable, I talked about it and posted my progress and challenges on social media. Everyone was supportive and encouraging. Some people shared tips and others started making changes, too. I made a few switches, some easier than others. But with each successful, switch I felt empowered to try more.

Here are some plastic alternatives I learned along the way:

  • Taking reusable containers to both the deli and the butcher counter (admittedly awkward at first, but everyone got used to it);
  • Making my own carbonated beverages at home;
  • Shopping at more farmers markets and local farm stands where not everything is prepackaged in plastic;
  • Shopping at specialty counters that only use plain butcher paper (careful, many butcher papers are lined with plastic);
  • Using powdered laundry detergent in a cardboard box (not all, but many of the laundry sheets use polyvinyl alcohol);
  • Buying cooking oils in cans rather than plastic (turns out, where I live even glass is not truly recycled, just ground up and used as a layer in the landfill);
  • Using shampoo bars and conditioner bars (instead of liquids in plastic bottles);
  • Avoiding prepackaged snack foods (this was the hardest one for me!);
  • Staying on the “look out” – I found a popular brand toilet paper wrapped in paper instead of plastic wrap (available at a standard grocery store).

A more sustainable future is not just about recycling more, but about reducing our reliance on plastics and being mindful of what we consume. To anyone feeling overwhelmed by the idea of reducing plastic waste: start small, stay consistent and share your journey. Your choices matter, your actions make a difference, and your voice can inspire change.

Read more about reducing your use of plastics:

Plastic Free July – Be Part of the Plastic Pollution Solution

Plastic pollution is growing relentlessly as waste management and recycling fall short, says OECD

Plastics industry worked for decades to create a throw-away culture : NPR

Microplastics Everywhere | Harvard Medicine Magazine

Marine Industries Association of the Treasure Coast, Inc. (MIATC) is spearheading the Treasure Coast Waterway Cleanup, an ambitious initiative focused on improving the health of local waterways. Monthly planning meetings with many community partners have been held to coordinate logistics, enhance promotion efforts, and strategize effective trash removal across the watershed. This collaborative effort has engaged many stakeholders, reflecting a unified commitment to environmental stewardship.

The culmination of these efforts is set for Saturday, July 27, from 8am to 12:30pm, with cleanup activities taking place at various sites along the Treasure Coast. This event mobilizes a diverse group of partners, including county and city governments like Indian River County, St. Lucie County, Martin County, City of Sebastian, City of Fort Pierce, and City of Stuart. Local organizations such as the Port Salerno Commercial Fishing Dock Authority, Keep Martin Beautiful, and Keep Port St. Lucie Beautiful play critical roles, emphasizing community-driven action.

Environmental groups like the Florida Oceanographic Society, Indian Riverkeeper, Southeast Florida Coral Reef Initiative, and Friends of Our Florida Reefs bring essential expertise and resources, bolstered by national and state agencies like NOAA and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. The participation of Waste Management and Waste Pro underscores the importance of professional waste handling and recycling services in managing the collected debris.

Support from civic organizations, including the Fort Pierce Yacht Club Foundation and the Rotary Club of Stuart/Sunrise, highlights the broad-based support for this initiative. The event promises to be a significant community undertaking, showing a shared commitment to preserving the natural beauty and ecological health of the Treasure Coast waterways.

We’re going to be cleaning up all week from Saturday, July 20th to Sunday, July 28th. To assist in planning, volunteer or to register, please visit Treasure Coast Waterway Cleanup’s website