Indian River Lagoon Restoration
Florida Wetlands Forever recognizes that the Indian River Lagoon (IRL), an EPA-designated Estuary of National Significance, is seriously impaired. Recent die-offs of Manatee, Bottlenose Dolphin, Brown Pelicans, and fish kills are evidence that the IRL ecosystem has reached a “tipping-point,” where it may no longer be able to sustain critically important biological resources.
Specifically, seagrass communities have been identified as “keystone” habitats that are critical to sustaining food web components, such as fisheries. These food web communities also provide critical habitat for migratory waterfowl such as the lesser scaup, which rely primarily on pelecypods for food. Scaup and other waterfowl stop in the IRL to build sufficient energy reserves during their annual migrations. Other migratory waterfowl such as the redhead duck feed directly on the seagrass itself and by-feed on gastropods. Puddle ducks, shorebirds, and other birds feed on the SAV, invertebrates, and small crustaceans found in the brackish waters that surround the lagoon.
The Indian River Lagoon’s seagrass communities are rapidly disappearing as a result of land-based sources of nutrient pollution, such as fertilizers and human wastewater. Excess nutrient loading into the IRL, resulting in eutrophication, has caused an “ecological phase-shift” from healthy seagrass communities, to a system dominated by “harmful algal blooms,” such as excessive macroalgae or “seaweed” blooms and toxic phytoplankton blooms or “red tide” type organisms that directly impact habitat, fish, marine mammals, waterfowl and other migratory birds. These nutrient-mediated alterations to the IRL are directly leading to a very quick loss of critical seagrass habitats throughout the roughly 150 mile long estuary.
Florida Wetlands Forever has made scientific research to investigate the sources of land-based nutrient pollution a top funding priority. The organization is actively working to provide science that, once and for all, will set priorities for the mitigation of pollution sources. Science that fills in the gaps is a critical action item needing resolution to remedy the current poor health and unsustainable management of the Indian River lagoon ecosystem.