Community Engagement Coordinator Caleta Scott brings on Lisa Krimsky and Vincent Encomio from University of Florida Institute of Food & Agricultural Sciences for episode 10. We discuss Martin County’s Water Ambassador Program, how human activities influence water quality, the benefits of living shorelines and the state of wild oyster habitats in the IRL.

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[Audio transcription via]

Episode Speakers:

Caleta Scott, Community Engagement Coordinator, IRL National Estuary Program

Lisa Krimsky, University of Florida Institute of Food & Agricultural Sciences

Vincent Encomio, University of Florida Institute of Food & Agricultural Sciences


Duane DeFreese: Hi, I am Duane DeFreese, executive director of the IRL Council and the Indian River Lagoon National Estuary Program. Welcome to our One Lagoon, One Voice podcast. 

Each week, myself or one of my staff members will host leaders in the community, scientists along the lagoon, people who know a lot about the system, to talk about some of the problems, and most importantly, some of the solutions to solve the Indian River Lagoon’s health and make sure it’s great for future generations. 

If you enjoy hearing us talk about the Lagoon, like and subscribe to this podcast. So, let’s get the show started, and let’s talk a little lagoon.

Caleta Scott: Greetings. Peace, and welcome to One Lagoon, One Voice. I’m Caleta Scott, Community Engagement Coordinator with the Indian River Lagoon National Estuary Program, and I’ll be hosting today’s podcast.

We’re going to chat about water quality and Martin County’s Water Ambassador Program. Some of the benefits of living shorelines, plus one of my favorites, the benefits of partnership.

So I’ve known our guests for about six, eight months now, but since we’ve connected on field work around water quality, habitat restoration and outreach, I’m now calling them my buds. Please welcome my go-to for Shoreline Restoration in Martin and St. Lucie Counties, Dr. Vincent Encomio, University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Ag Sciences Florida Sea Grant Multi-County extension agent. Did I get that out?

Vincent Encomio: Yeah. Thanks, Caleta. No, and thanks for having us on. It’s great to be here. And yeah, it’s been great working with you in that short period of time.

Caleta Scott: Thank you. And we also have Dr. Lisa Krimsky, University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Ag Sciences Southeast Regional Water Resources RSA Extension Agent, who I found out after a little online digging that we both share a love for some Florida stone crab. Welcome, Lisa.

Lisa Krimsky: Hi. Thanks so much for having us.

Caleta Scott: I am excited to talk to you guys, but just in case anyone out there hears me say go Gators or it’s great a few times, I cannot help it. I’m a Gator, and just like this podcast, it’s for the gator good.

So Lisa, can you share with our audience a little bit about your background and how it led to you overseeing water resources programming in 12 counties from Monroe to Brevard?

Lisa Krimsky: Yeah, absolutely. So as you mentioned, I do have a fondness for Florida stone crabs. And the stone crab was actually the topic of my PhD work. So even though I was located at the University of Delaware, I was able to study the Florida stone crab, and that brought me to Florida, which is where I fell in love with the state and its water resources.

Soon after graduating, I got a position with the University of Florida IFAS and the Florida Sea Grant Program as the Miami-Dade County Sea Grant agent. And after about eight years in that position where, just like Vincent, really got to focus on all things marine and coastal ecosystems, I took a new position within the university as a regional water resources agent. So I have a larger geographic spread, but my focus area really is now restricted to coastal water quality and specifically harmful algal blooms in the state of Florida.

Caleta Scott: Wow. Well, we’re glad you’re here in our area now.

Lisa Krimsky: Thank you. And I’m glad that the IRL is in my region because it is a fantastic resource, and any excuse to get out onto the IRL is a good one.

Caleta Scott: Great. Don’t forget to take me out next time you go in the field. Okay?

Lisa Krimsky: Done.

Caleta Scott: Vincent, can you tell us about your passion and how your passion for aquaculture started and where it’s taken you and your career?

Vincent Encomio: How I got interested in aquaculture is from graduate school. So I came all the way from California to Virginia and did my graduate studies in the Chesapeake Bay.

And I remember coming over from the west coast and I had studied something pretty esoteric, these sort of marine worms that live in mud flats and they’re not very attractive. And I thought that when I move on to the next step, which was my doctorate, I should probably study something that is maybe commercially important or something that I like to eat. So I ended up studying oysters.

That’s kind of where I got started in the Chesapeake Bay. And at that time, aquaculture or shellfish aquaculture, at least for oysters, was actually just getting off the ground. So that was kind of neat. It was exciting to see that. And actually when I moved to Florida, I sort of moved away from aquaculture, but I was still connected to oysters when I first moved to the west coast of Florida in Fort Myers and got involved in a lot of oyster restoration efforts. So restoration of natural habitats, so oyster reefs and things like that.

And that kind of continued on from there. And then I eventually moved to the east coast of Florida after being there for a few years. And luckily enough, the organization I was working for was doing oyster restoration and they actually had a shellfish hatchery there too. So we were kind of combining aquaculture technology with oysters, trying to restore wild oyster habitats in the Indian River Lagoon.

Caleta Scott: Nice.

Lisa Krimsky: Not quite Florida stone crabs, but maybe second.

Vincent Encomio: Not quite, not quite. A little easier to get oysters than stone crabs, yep.

Caleta Scott: So one quick question. Are you guys considered honorary Gators?

Lisa Krimsky: Absolutely. We both are faculty members at the University of Florida. So go Gators.

Caleta Scott: Go Gators.

Vincent Encomio: Yep.

Caleta Scott: Okay, so picture it. It was March 3rd and I attended my first Martin County Water Ambassador Field trip. We visited the Loxa-Lucie Headwaters Initiative. I learned so much, and I was surprised at how many citizens were dedicated to the mission of conservation, protection, and restoration of the water resources in Martin County. It’s totally in line with the Indian River Lagoon National Estuary promise, clean water for people and nature.

So now that we know I’m officially a water ambassador, I want our listeners to know about this impressive program that’s designed to empower citizens to understand their role in protecting our waterways.

Lisa, can you tell us about the program and how it’s evolved over the years?

Lisa Krimsky: Absolutely. The Water Ambassador Program is a Martin County-funded program. It’s a public education program meant to educate residents on Martin County’s stormwater as well as just general water quality. And the idea is to create knowledge and awareness about how human activities influence stormwater and water quality and hopefully influence changes in behavior that can help protect our downstream water quality.

And the Loxa-Lucie Headwaters Initiative is a perfect example of this project because it really is a citizen-driven project where concerned residents can get behind an issue and help make real changes to protect the waters of Martin County. I’ve been involved with the program since 2017 and it started as in-person workshops where we would get interested residents of Martin County in a room for six long hours and really talk to them about the basics of stormwater, basin management action plans, total maximum daily loads, fertilizer use in Florida-friendly landscaping.

And so we got really engaged residents from that, but of course our scope was limited. So I think the water ambassador program really ended up seeing benefits ironically from COVID, where we were forced to move to a virtual system. And now, rather than in-person workshops, our primary format is through what we call a Lunch and Learn webinar series. And this has allowed us not only to focus on those really important basics, but also to reach out to experts not only within Martin County and the Indian River Lagoon region, but across the state, to focus on innovative research and management projects that are important to the region locally, regionally, and across the state. So we’ve been able to expand our scope in terms of what topics we can address, but also we’ve been able to expand our scope as to our audience and how many water ambassadors we’re able to reach with this program.

So the webinar series is the bread and butter part of the program. We also do have a youth component, which is run through the extension 4H program in partnership with them. Of course, it’s important to teach our younger residents about the importance of water quality and what they can do to protect it.

And then, like the Loxa-Lucie Initiative, we do try and get out at least two times per year on a field trip where we can really visit some of these on-the-ground projects and learn about them in real life at real scale, and really get that deeper knowledge about these projects and what it takes to protect and restore water quality in the state.

Caleta Scott: I love the program and I’m one of those people who love to duplicate things. So I feel like all counties and all local governments should implement something like this. And I really think the best thing about it is that there’s an archive of the series and you can watch it at any time. How would someone do that?

Lisa Krimsky: Yeah, so we are very fortunate. We’ve been able to record all of these webinars, and so we now have, I believe, almost three years worth of recordings available on YouTube. The easiest way would just be to put in the YouTube search bar, Martin County extension, and you’re going to want to look to the water ambassador playlists and you can click on subscribe, and then it’ll always be there and let you know monthly when the new webinars are posted.

Caleta Scott: Thanks a lot, Lisa.

So we’re going to talk a little bit about living shorelines. So historically, the efforts to protect shorelines have involved hardened structures like sea walls or bulkheads in order to dampen or reflect wave energy. However, shoreline hardening interrupts natural shoreline processes, reduces nursery and forging habitat, degrades water quality, and it increases erosion processes. Hardened shorelines are often the default method of shoreline protection selected by property owners to hold the line along the edge of their properties.

Vincent, we’ve learned a lot over the years, and just in case any of our coastal homeowner communities or construction company listeners are tuning in, can you tell us how living shorelines support resilient communities?

Vincent Encomio: Well, a living shoreline, the idea is to try to regain that lost zone, that interface between land and water. When you have a seawall, as you just mentioned, it really, it’s an abrupt transition from what’s on land to the water immediately. And really the kind of interesting processes that happen, especially with regards to nursery habitats, but also things like capturing runoff and providing a space where that water that is moving from land to the waters to the estuary can get cleaned.

So we’re trying to restore that intertidal zone, that transition zone between land and water. And one of the ways that we do that is by installing natural habitats. So we might build an oyster reef that’s just offshore of someone’s property, and behind that, we’ll plant native plants that are appropriate for that tidal zone like marsh grasses, mangroves, those kinds of things.

And that, as far as resiliency goes, if you’re increasing the width of that shoreline, you’re increasing that physical base between water and land, so you’re increasing that buffer. And ideally over time, as those habitats grow and thrive, you’re providing more protection and you’re also providing more flexibility.

So shorelines move, they migrate back and forth. And when you have a sea wall, you don’t have that capacity anymore. And because that fixed point that a seawall creates is fixed, then we’ve got things like sea level rise and the increasing amount of storms that are coming with climate change and all those impacts, that line is rigid and doesn’t change, and it can’t change as our conditions change over time.

And ideally with the living shoreline, that’s going to give you that flexibility where you have that capacity for those natural habitats to increase the resiliency of your waterfront.

Caleta Scott: So Vincent, can you tell us what is a living shoreline?

Vincent Encomio: Basically, it’s a shoreline restoration strategy to replace or supplement our sort of gray infrastructure that you alluded to earlier with sea walls, bulkheads, things like that, and replace that with or augment that with natural elements. So green infrastructure like oyster reefs, like shoreline plantings, like marsh grasses, mangroves, those kinds of things. So having that green infrastructure along your shoreline is what the goal of a living shoreline is.

Caleta Scott: Vincent, I know that there’s some cool technological advancements that National Estuary program has funded. Tell me how technology plays a role in the work that you do with living shorelines.

Vincent Encomio: Well, there’s been a lot of work on studying how our shorelines change, and it’s not high technology, but there’s been more advances in the different kinds of reef structures that we could put on a shoreline, particularly with regards to some of the recent work that’s gone into removing plastics from some of our oyster restoration strategies, using marine-friendly concrete formulations that can encourage settlement of marine organisms like oysters and mussels and barnacles and things like that.

And then also just taking high-tech approaches to study our shorelines. I’m working with some scientists from UCF and another from FIU. We’re collecting data on shorelines and using that data to input into their computer modeling to determine where are the areas that are most vulnerable to erosion, and what kind of strategies could be employed to help make those shorelines more resilient and hopefully taking those greener strategies like living shorelines as part of that process.

Caleta Scott: Do you have a success story? Where has it worked out? Has there been a great marriage of a homeowner who was willing and the right conditions? Tell us how that works out and what someone would need to do to make that happen.

Vincent Encomio: Yeah, there’s been a few actually, and you had mentioned construction companies and waterfront homeowners. We’re actually really engaged in educating industry as well as private residents on these kinds of practices, living shoreline practices, shoreline restoration, and we’ve been doing that in a couple formats. One has been this living shorelines training for marine contractors, so we’re trying to bring people in from industries to learn about these techniques. And the other course has been our master naturalist course where homeowners might take this course to learn more about not only the different kinds of approaches to make their shorelines more resilient, but why that’s important. What are the ecological benefits those different estuarine habitats provide?

And we’ve seen a few success stories in recent years. I’ve worked, recently, we’ve had a homeowner right here in Martin County. He contacted me and he was building a home on a portion of the St. Lucie River, and he was worried about coastal flooding. So he was worried about king tide flooding. He was worried about where to place his home that he was going to build there. And he didn’t want to build a bulkhead in a seawall, which was typical of his neighbor’s homes.

So I suggested some native plants that he could plant along his shoreline. He contacted a local environmental consultant who was well-versed in that practice, and it’s thriving now. And whenever it floods, the plants are resistant to that saltwater or that excessive flooding. And when those floods go away, those plants are thriving and providing more protection for his home.

There’s another resident, also in the St. Lucie River, who a number of years ago approached me about, again, the same thing. She was seeing a lot of erosion on her shoreline at her home and did not want to take a traditional gray infrastructure approach. So we ended up constructing oyster reefs just offshore of her shoreline. She worked with a landscaper to install native plants, a landscape architect that contributed to the design of everything. So not only was it ecologically beneficial, but it was aesthetically pleasing as well. And that’s been going strong for a number of years now, probably about six years or so.

And then even going further back, I’ve worked with a property owner who owns a local motel along the Indian River Lagoon in Jensen Beach, and we combined oyster reefs with marsh grass plantings on her property, and it’s made it through two, three hurricanes, I think, going back to Hurricane Matthew, Hurricane Irma, and then the most recent ones, Ian and Nicole, so actually four hurricanes. And the edge of that shoreline is significantly further out compared to her neighbors. So at least another 15 to 20 feet. And it moves it back and forth with tides, with flooding. But it’s held in there since, that one also was since 2016, I believe.

So those are some really nice success stories for how industries and homeowners can work together to do something new.

Caleta Scott: I love that. I love partnerships, definitely. Lisa, what do you think it looks like on a regional level and how we can maybe use some of the things that are happening in the broader region here locally in the Indian River Lagoon?

Lisa Krimsky: Yeah. I think issues that are happening locally in Martin County are very similar to issues that are happening in the broader southeast Florida region, including the wider Indian River Lagoon. It’s more population on the coastal areas, it’s the challenges of living with those storms and sea level rise and more compromised water quality.

Although the specifics of each project may look different depending on where you are and the given water body that you’re in, ultimately the concept of living shorelines or green infrastructure are things that can be adopted across the state and even across the nation as long as the specific plants and methods are designed for your given location.

Caleta Scott: Gotcha. Well, I think with all of that information, and if more people would just know that, I think they’d be interested in enhancing or protecting their shoreline. Lisa, if our guests want to become a water ambassador or start their own project or be involved in the current initiatives going on in Martin County or even come to an upcoming field trip, how can they join the learning fund?

Lisa Krimsky: So the beauty of the Water Ambassador program and these Living Shoreline programs and everything that the University of Florida IFAS extension does is that they are publicly accessible. So in order to participate in any of these programs, you just simply have to reach out to myself or Vincent or your local extension office, if you’re not in Martin County, via email, and we are happy to provide those resources for you.

Caleta Scott: Thank you. And Vincent, if you’re a homeowner or a business owner that’s interested in a living shoreline, what should they do? Should they just call you? How can they contact you?

Vincent Encomio: Yeah, they can contact me directly here at the extension office in Martin County, either by phone or email, and then I can connect them to, if they’re not in St. Lucie or Martin County, I can connect them to other extension professionals throughout the state that are collaborating with me on this effort to educate the industry on living shorelines and waterfront residence as well.

Caleta Scott: All right, we’re going to wrap it up. I want to thank our guests, Dr. Vincent Encomio and Dr. Lisa Krimsky for taking the time to share the good work being done by our partner agencies. I think this is a great way to achieve the heightened public awareness and highlight the coordinated intra-agency management of the Indian River Lagoon ecosystem.

Before you go, can you both share a highlight to working with the Indian River Lagoon Restoration Partners to implement a strategic science-based and comprehensive living shoreline restoration program? Lisa?

Lisa Krimsky: I think the highlight is just meeting all the different individuals who are so enthusiastic about the Indian River Lagoon and our coastal water quality and really want to do their part to protect it.

Caleta Scott: What about you, Vincent?

Vincent Encomio: I would definitely echo what Lisa just said. Especially in Martin County, the residents are very attuned to the issues here regarding the water, and you are likely to find people that are willing to go the extra mile to take that extra step to increase their personal stewardship. And the Water Ambassador program definitely enhances that ethic, I believe.

I think as we continue to get the word out and educate people on, say, things specifically like living shorelines, then I think we’re starting to see momentum grow. We can look at other states that have started way back when. Now they have developed industries where, say, a marine contractor who can build seawalls and bulkheads and docks too, but they can also do living shorelines.

And I think we’re getting close to that tipping point. I think Florida has such a high potential, not just here, but throughout the entire state, for that to become not only a common practice, but a practice that can make people some money.

Lisa Krimsky: And I think as with everything, there has to be acceptance from the customer or the consumer, which is the residents, before industry is going to take something on. And so I think, as Vincent said, we are seeing that momentum, and the more people that are asking for this and become familiar with these tools in the toolbox, so to speak, the more we’re going to see them being adopted in the state.

Caleta Scott: Lisa, I have a quick question for you. You have a few tips for our homeowners who just want to live lagoon-friendly?

Lisa Krimsky: I think recognizing that what happens on your home and your landscape is first steps. So we’re in the summer where we get a lot of rain in the summer and rain brings runoff. So be responsible with what you’re applying on your yards, be it chemicals, fertilizers, pesticides, anything. We don’t want that just being washed right off and into our storm drains, which lead to our downstream waters, to the Indian River Lagoon and our estuaries.

And the second thing is don’t be afraid to share what you know with others. I think there is a lot of power in sharing information and just having those conversations. Peer pressure is a big motivator.

Caleta Scott: I’m glad we’re peers, Lisa. What about you, Vincent? What kind of tips could you share for living lagoon-friendly?

Vincent Encomio: I think these are maybe a little bit more advanced or take a little bit more effort, but I think they’re important. And we teach this in our original water ambassador format. I think picking up after your pets, that’s a big one, I think.

Lisa Krimsky: Yes, yes, yes, yes.

Vincent Encomio: Please do that. And one thing that I’ve really gotten involved in the last few years, and I’m a huge advocate for it, is if you can, if you’re able to, if you can compost. I think that’s a really good one. Of course, it’s a lot more involved, a little bit more involved, but I think the people that come out of our Water Ambassador program, they’re ready for those next steps, to do that little extra something. And so I think that’s one thing that I can talk hours on.

Caleta Scott: I think that sounds like another podcast topic, Vincent. I definitely intend to begin composting again, and I’m going to give you a call before I do.

Vincent Encomio: Sure. Yeah, absolutely.

Caleta Scott: Thank you both. I know that we here at the Indian River Lagoon National Estuary Program couldn’t do our work without you, and we can’t do it without you, the listener. So thank you for your time.

Lisa Krimsky: Thank you.

Vincent Encomio: Yeah, thank you so much, Caleta. It’s great talking to you.

Caleta Scott: If you enjoyed these discussions about the Indian River Lagoon, please like and subscribe to this podcast. To learn more about the Indian River Lagoon National Estuary Program, how you can get involved in volunteer opportunities, tips on living lagoon-friendly, or to support lagoon restoration by purchasing One Lagoon merchandise, visit us at

Another great way to support lagoon restoration efforts is to purchase a newly redesigned Indian River Lagoon license plate, which has raised over $8 million for lagoon restoration since its inception. And to stay informed about lagoon news and upcoming events, follow us on Facebook and Instagram, all at One Lagoon. I’d like to thank everyone again for listening.

Share and Connect

If you enjoyed our new episode, please feel free to share with your friends and family. Questions? Contact us today or connect with us on Twitter, Tik Tok, Instagram, YouTube, and Facebook.

Interested in doing your part? Make a donation to the IRL, purchase lagoon merchandise on our site or buy an IRL license plate today.