The North Fork St. Lucie River is a tributary for the Indian River Lagoon and it was dredged back in
the 1920s – just straightened. So we're looking to restore the oxbows and the wetlands along that
river. The manner in which it was dredged is they took the river bottom and piled it up on the
banks. So what we’ve done is we're cutting holes in that spoil bank, cutting breaches to create
little tidal creeks, so that water will get back into that historical swamp. This is the first oxbow
reconnection. So we have an oxbow that has been isolated from the main branch of the river for over
eighty years and we are going to be reconnecting that. If we fully reconnect all of these things then
the river will be functioning as it's supposed to. And downstream where the river empties into the
Indian River Lagoon and ultimately into the Atlantic Ocean, you'll have better water quality and
therefore better habitat and fisheries downstream.
The lagoon boundary on the west is the Florida mainland and on the east, barrier islands. Indian
River Lagoon is one of the watersheds in Florida identified as part of the National Estuary Program
and is one of the richest and most productive waterbodies for aquatic fauna within North America. The
Florida Intracoastal Waterway runs the length of the lagoon. Bird life is dependent on the lagoon's
tidal flats for feeding and the protection of colonial nesting sites.
There are 137 spoil islands in the Indian River Lagoon that were created when they dredged the
Intracoastal Waterway back in the mid-1900s. One particular island we’ve selected to do a
restoration or enhancement project on. The island is predominately Australian pine and Brazilian
pepper. It's fringed by mangroves, but we'll be taking an island that really is not very productive
in terms of what it's doing for the lagoon and turn it into what we know is the most productive
habitats. We know that mangroves and seagrasses are the habitat and the primary producers for
everything in the lagoon.
It can be costly to do these things, but we know that mangroves and seagrass provide tens of
thousands of dollars annually to the local economy in terms of fisheries, and tourism. So we know
it's worth the cost up front and that it's something that will be providing enjoyment and economics
to us for years to come.
Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution, a leader in marine educational programs, has been conducting
research in and around the Indian River Lagoon since 1973. Dennis Hanisack, director of marine
education, discusses the importance of the hands-on curriculum for young students in our society.
We have partnerships with Florida Atlantic University and also Florida Institute of Technology. And
we've been doing a number of courses under a program called Semester by the Sea where students come
here for a semester and take four or five courses, all in marine sciences. Whatever you are going to
be in life – if you're going to be a marine scientist, you're going to need to have quite a lot of
information about how the marine world works. Even if you're just going to live in Florida, I think
it really behooves everyone to have a basic understanding of the salt water environment that – that
Florida's totally surrounded by salt water; it's a peninsula. If you live here on the Treasure Coast,
you have the Indian River Lagoon right here and nearshore reefs.
So our philosophy is that everyone should know some very fundamental things about our marine
resources and the organisms that live in them. And also how we, as humans, can impact the natural
systems. There's lots of opportunities here. I think that any young scientist could make a whole
career studying the lagoon. It's a beautiful place. It's a very interesting place.