Florida Department of Environmental Protection Florida Department of Environmental Protection
 
* DEP Home * About DEP * Programs * Contact * Site Map * Search
MyFlorida.com  
 About the Southeast Florida Aquatic Preserves
View a Map
Contact
Description of Site
Established
Location
Size
Watershed
Habitat
Ecological Importance
Rare / Endangered Species
Geomorphic Features
Archaeological Features
Uses
Management Status
References

Contact

Laura Herren - Laura.Herren@dep.state.fl.us
3300 Lewis Street
Fort Pierce, FL 34981
phone: (772) 429-2995
fax: (772) 429-2999
Office Hours: 8:00am to 5:00pm


Description of Site

The Indian River - Vero Beach to Ft. Pierce Aquatic Preserve and Jensen Beach to Jupiter Inlet Aquatic Preserve are part of southeast Florida’s Indian River Lagoon (IRL). The Indian River Lagoon is an extensive ecosystem spanning two biogeographic zones characterized by diverse land and water body formations. It possesses wide shallow lagoons and narrow tidal creeks. The lagoon is bordered mostly by intertidal mangrove fringes and salt marshes that are periodically sectioned by man-made mosquito impoundments and residential development. Much of its open waters are dotted by oyster bars, clam beds and spoil islands. The submerged lands are a mosaic of seagrass and algae beds, bare sandy areas, and deep water sites. All of these features combine to create the most diverse (species-rich) and productive estuary in North America.

Recreational uses include fishing, boating, and swimming. Agriculture and residential communities use connecting canals for drainage. Mangroves, leatherfern, sawgrass, tidal marsh and floodplain forest make up the primary plant communities along the riverfront. The aquatic preserve contains fishes, turtles, birds, alligators, and manatees. The adjacent Savannas Preserve State Park contains various natural communities such as pine flatwoods and scrub.


Established

Both the Indian River - Vero Beach to Fort Pierce Aquatic Preserve and Jensen Beach to Jupiter Inlet Buffer Preserve were adopted under Florida Statutes, Sections 258.35 – 258.46 by the State of Florida on October 21, 1969 and are managed by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Office of Coastal and Aquatic Managed Areas. They are listed in the Aquatic Preserve Rule, Chapter 18-20 Florida Administrative Code.


Location

The Vero Beach to Fort Pierce Aquatic Preserve extends from the southern Vero Beach corporate limit (Indian River County) to the north A1A bridge at Fort Pierce (St. Lucie County).

The Jensen Beach to Jupiter Inlet Aquatic Preserve extends from the southern corporate limits of Fort Pierce (St. Lucie County) south (thru Martin County) to Jupiter Inlet (West Palm Beach County), including the Peck Lake and Hobe Sound areas. It has lagoon habitat contained between mainland (with US Highway 1) and a barrier island (with A1A).


Size

The Vero Beach to Fort Pierce Aquatic Preserve is 12 miles long and encompasses approximately 11,000 acres of surface water area.

The Jensen Beach to Jupiter Inlet Aquatic Preserve is 37 miles long and encompasses approximately 22,000 acres of surface water area.


Watershed

The watershed for most of the lagoon has been modified by agricultural drainage and residential development. Alterations include the construction of major drainage networks that allow larger amounts of fresh water to flow into the lagoon more quickly than natural drainage patterns would have allowed. Major freshwater inputs include Taylor Creek and the North and South forks of the St. Lucie River. The preserves receive runoff from a drainage basin of approximately 3473 sq. km.


Habitat

The IRL aquatic preserves contain many important habitats. Seagrass beds, mangroves, drift algae, salt marshes, oyster bars, tidal flats, and spoil islands provide food, shelter and space for the numerous plants and animals found within them.

Seagrasses are submerged vascular plants that perform many valuable functions within the estuary. They stabilize and recycle nutrients, entrap silt, and provide shelter and substrate for animals and other plant forms. They also function as nursery areas for fishes, food for the endangered West Indian manatee, and substrate for epiphytic algae. These algae are eaten by invertebrates, which are in turn eaten by fish.

Mangroves perform a variety of ecological roles. The entire plant is important. Their roots stabilize the shoreline and limit erosion. Their leaves contribute an important leaf component (detritus) in the nutrient cycle and their canopies function as bird rookeries.

There are over 60 species of red, brown, and green algae that grow in the sediment, attached to seawalls or rip-rap, or attached to seagrasses. Some of these algal species can begin as attached forms that eventually break off to form drifting algal mats that become substrata for numerous invertebrates, associated algae, and fish. The drift algae communities may provide even better refuge for many organisms than do seagrasses.

Marshes are located mainly in the Jensen Beach to Jupiter Inlet Aquatic Preserve. The term "marsh" covers a variety of habitats, the species composition of which is largely determined by small differences in elevation. Two major categories of marsh are high marsh and low marsh. High marshes represent areas that receive the least amount of tidal inundation and are characterized by salt grass, sea purslane, sea daisy, saltwort, glasswort, and black and white mangroves. Low marshes are more frequently inundated, and the dominant vegetation is smooth cordgrass or red mangrove. Marsh communities recycle nutrients, contribute to estuarine productivity, function as a natural filtration system for runoff, and provide habitat for a variety of animal life.

Oyster bars create habitat space that is unique to the lagoon. The substrate formed by the oyster colonies occurs in areas where there are no other hard substrates. Oyster bars perform a valuable function in the food web by converting plankton, detritus, and possibly dissolved organics into animal protein. The oysters and associated animals are utilized by other animals which feed on or around the oyster bars.

Tidal flats describe a wide variety of shallow habitats. They may consist of lagoonal beaches, areas waterward of mangroves, spoil areas, and natural shoals. These tidal areas are utilized by a variety of shore birds which feed on the numerous invertebrate species inhabiting the flats. Such birds often form extensive nesting colonies in adjacent upland areas. Successful breeding may be linked to both the vitality of the flats and to their undisturbed access. In addition to using the flats as feeding sites, many birds use them as resting or "loafing" areas.

The construction and maintenance of the Intracoastal Waterway channel and barrier island inlets resulted in the formation of a chain of spoil islands within the Indian River Lagoon. These islands, formed by the deposition of the dredged material (spoil), usually parallel the channel alignment. These islands are generally dominated by exotic vegetation, such as Australian pine and brazilian pepper. However, the shoreline fringe is generally vegetated with mangroves and other native wetland vegetation, and provides valuable habitat to fish and wildlife, especially bird life.


Ecological Importance

Seagrasses are one of the most important organisms found in the aquatic preserves. There are six species of seagrass located within the preserves. Manatee grass (Syringodium filiforme), shoal grass (Halodule wrightii), and turtle grass (Thalassia testudinum) are most prevalent. The rare Johnson’s (Halophila johnsonii), star (Halophila englemanni), and paddle (Halophila decipiens) grasses are also sparsely distributed within the lagoon. These seagrasses support a large number of commercial, recreational, and ecologically important species. They do this by providing food, shelter, and living space for a majority of the organisms in the food chain. It is estimated that the lagoon generates $750,000 annually in tourism.

The lagoon contains over 400 species of fishes, 260 species of mollusks, and 479 species of shrimps and crabs. Commercially important species include gamefish (such as snook, seatrout, and tarpon) and crabs. The lagoon habitats serve as nursery ground for virtually all aquatic species found within the lagoon and offshore on the continental shelf. Hundreds of species of birds, including migratory wading and shorebirds, also utilize the lagoon for foraging, nesting, and roosting. Marine mammals such as manatees and dolphin and reptiles such as sea turtles and alligators also rely on the lagoon.


Rare / Endangered Species

The Smithsonian Marine Station at Fort Pierce maintains the Indian River Lagoon Species Inventory.

Geomorphic Features

The lagoon contains numerous river and creek inputs. Major tributaries found within the preserves are Taylor Creek (Ft. Pierce), the St. Lucie River (Stuart) and Loxahatchee River (Jupiter). Three inlets to the Atlantic Ocean open through the barrier island into these preserves (Ft. Pierce, St. Lucie, and Jupiter Inlets). Spoil islands created when the Intracoastal Waterway was dredged are found in the center of the lagoon. There are 10 spoil islands within the Indian River County, 14 within the St. Lucie County, and 10 within the Martin County portions of the preserves.


Archaeological Features

Sites of archaeological and cultural significance are found along the mainland and barrier island shores of the preserve. Many of the cities began as settlements in the early 1800s. Indian artifacts from middens have been located throughout the region. Other sites of interest include marine science centers such as Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute at Florida Atlantic University and the Smithsonian Institution at Fort Pierce.


Uses

The preserve is heavily utilized for recreational and commercial fishing, boating and other water-related activities, and wildlife observation (birding, canoeing, hiking, and so on). The abundant natural resources are used by various state, federal, and private entities for research and educational purposes.


Management Status

Most of the lagoon and its major tributaries are designated as aquatic preserves to be maintained in their existing or natural condition. The natural resources have gained worldwide attention and are under threat by over-exploitation and coastal development. The resources are affected by stormwater containing pollutants and sediment, coastal development that destroys essential plants such as mangroves and seagrasses, and the impacts associated with multiple uses groups such as boating and fishing. High levels of sediment and associated pollutants cloud the water and block the light necessary for aquatic plants. Many of the proposed remedies to these major threats are outlined in two plans developed by federal, state, and local governments: the Indian River Lagoon Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan (IRL CCMP) and the Surface Water Improvement Management Plan (SWIM Plan). These plans were developed in the 1990s and address various issues such as pollution reduction goals and land preservation and conservation through acquisition. For example, wetlands along aquatic preserves are purchased and used to filter stormwater before it enters the lagoon.

Water quality, which is affected by adjacent land uses and the runoff entering our waterways, is the single most important management concern of the lagoon.

Spoil Island Management Plan

During dredging of the Intercoastal Waterway in the 1950’s, spoil was deposited on either side of the channel creating islands within the lagoon. The Indian River Lagoon Spoil Island Management Working Group was established to coordinate the management activities of various state and federal agencies as they pertain to these islands. Along with select user groups, the agencies goals are to implement the provisions of the Spoil Island Management Plan, aid in assessment of spoil islands, enhance the environmental quality of the islands, and provide enhanced public use management strategies. Based upon physical structure, ecological importance, and historical use, data was used to classify spoil islands into usage categories that include conservation, education, passive recreation or active recreation. Currently, selected islands are undergoing exotic plant removal, revegetation studies, and shoreline erosion control. These methods will not only aid in biological rehabilitation of the spoil islands, but also will increase public access to selected islands and thus increase public awareness.

For more information on spoil island management, including volunteer opportunities, please visit The Spoil Island Enhancement Program.


References

Jensen Beach to Jupiter Inlet Preserve Management Plan.

Indian River Lagoon Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan (IRL CCMP)

Surface Water Improvement Management Plan (SWIM Plan).

Last updated: April 12, 2013

  3900 Commonwealth Boulevard M.S. 235 Tallahassee, Florida 32399 850-245-2094 (phone) / 850-245-2110 (fax)
Contact Us 
DEP Home | About DEP  | Contact Us | Search |  Site Map