The Indian River Lagoon stretches across 40% of Florida’s east coast and is 156 miles in length. It stretches from the Ponce de Leon Inlet in Volusia County to Jupiter Inlet in Palm Beach County. It consists of three lagoons: Mosquito Lagoon, Banana River and the Indian River.
The Lagoon is one of 28 National Estuary Program waterways in the U.S. and one of its most diverse. The lagoon’s habitats support more than 3,500 documented species of animals, plants, fungi and protists. It serves as a nursery for many species of oceanic and lagoon fish and shellfish. It has a diverse bird population and almost one third of the nation’s manatee population lives here or migrates through the Lagoon seasonally.
In the spring of 2011 an algal superbloom appeared in Banana River Lagoon and spread to the northern River Lagoon and north into the Mosquito Lagoon. At the same time a lesser bloom extended from north of Melbourne south to the Vero Beach-Fort Pierce area. As a result of the blooms 47,000 acres of seagrasses were lost, about 60% of the lagoon’s seagrass coverage. In August 2012, a brown tide bloom began in the Mosquito Lagoon and moved into the Indian River Lagoon where it contributed to the loss of manatees, pelicans and bottlenose dolphins. It reappeared in 2013.
In response to these environmental challenges the St. Johns River Water Management District launched an Indian River Lagoon Protection Initiative in the spring of 2013. It is a multi-year program to protect and restore the water quality and ecological habitat of the Indian River Lagoon. The initial focus is an algal bloom investigation that will take four years and an investment of $3.7 million. Other Initiative programs include water quality monitoring, seagrass transplant experiments and studies of drift algae.
The seagrass transplant pilot project will assess if sea grass from healthy beds in the Indian River Lagoon could be transplanted to barren areas where the seagrass has died and determine why canopy-forming seagrass is not returning to areas where water quality is supportive.
This project is of particular importance as these seagrass beds are one of the most important habitats of the Indian River Lagoon. They are the cornerstone of a healthy lagoon system, as well as a food source for manatees and a nursery and refuge for a variety of fish and wildlife and a means of improving water quality and clarity.
Scientists have begun transplanting seagrass harvested locally along the Indian River Lagoon. The scientists harvest the seagrass with hand tools only and manually install the grass at the study sites. Shoal grass is used because it is a rapidly growing seagrass. Metal cages are placed over portions of the transplant areas as a step to protect the seagrass from being eaten by manatees and turtles.
This project could transplant grass at up to thirty sites in the lagoon. The planned cost for the three-year transplant project is $85,000.