February 07, 2012
The Indian River Lagoon (IRL) is a top inshore fishery, running south from New Smyrna Beach all the way to Stuart on the east coast of Florida. In fact, it stretches along almost 40 percent of Florida's east coast. The Lagoon is also an economic engine, generating more than $3.7 billion per year according to some estimates. Much of that money comes from fishing and tourism. It's absolutely vital to keep this unique and bountiful ecosystem healthy, even if viewed purely from an economic perspective.
But there are constant pressures negatively affecting the Lagoon. Urbanization, development, excessive freshwater releases, contaminant loading, runoff, and degradation of water quality are constant factors that hurt the health of the IRL. But most visible to fishermen is the loss of habitat such as seagrasses and mangroves. All these pressures affect the health inshore fisheries.
Advocacy groups, volunteer groups, state agencies and private companies are all doing their part to rebuild seagrass and oyster beds in specific parts of the Indian River Lagoon. Highlighted below is Spoil Island SL 18B near Fort Pierce, Florida. The island is part of an oyster restoration project that relies on volunteer help. Much of it is grunt work that relies on people power to bag oyster shell and then "plant" it at the islands to recruit new oyster growth.
A Google Earth screenshot, left, shows Spoil Island SL 18B prior to volunteer efforts. The 2010 Google Earth photograph, right, shows the completed island. Extensive work was done to the island including efforts such as the Treasure Coast Casters ' reefs on the southern shoreline, the Police Athletic League reefs on the southwestern and northeastern shorelines, the Aquakids' reefs on the northwestern shoreline, the Boy Scout reef on the western shoreline, two Florida Oceanographic Society experimental oyster reefs, and other reefs created by volunteers.
Better oyster growth leads to increased water quality and increased seagrass growth. Seagrass regeneration on spoil Island SL 18B is obvious to the naked eye. Google's aerial surveys show strong evidence of seagrass recruitment, especially on the northeast, northwest, and southeast areas. Oyster recruitment is expected to be monitored indefinitely. The Florida Oceanographic Society is also monitoring seagrass recruitment.