The IRL needs some TLC

The past, present and the future.

The IRL needs some TLC

The Indian River Lagoon (IRL) is one of the most biologically diverse estuaries in the United States, stretching along Florida’s east coast for 156 miles. The IRL empties into the Atlantic Ocean. It is home to over 4,000 species of plants and animals, including manatees, dolphins, pelicans, and alligators. Historically, the IRL provided a variety of resources to different populations that have inhabited the area since pre-Columbian (i.e. 1492) times. From fish and seafood to transportation and water, the lagoon has been a major asset to the communities that border and rely on it.

Unfortunately, the health of the Indian River Lagoon is declining. Numerous factors, including overdevelopment, agricultural runoff and pollution, sewage dumping, and invasive species, have all taken their toll and created an ecological crisis. Per the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the most significant cause of the lagoon’s decline is nutrient pollution, a process caused by runoff that carries fertilizers, sewage, animal waste, and other pollutants into the water. This, in turn, creates algae blooms that contaminate the water and kill off fish and wildlife.

The fluctuating quality of the water has caused a decline in the fish population due to the decrease in oxygen levels and an increase in pollutants in the water. A variety of plant life has also been effected by the decline in water quality, leading to decreased levels of species diversity and the potential for future species extinction. The effects of this decline have already had profound effects on our local ecosystem. With the disappearance of some species, there is now a significantly smaller number of animals in our lagoon. This means the potential for the spread of disease for our marine life is growing.

The state of Florida is responding to the crisis with a variety of strategies to protect and restore the lagoon. On the legislative side, Florida has passed laws protecting the ecology of the lagoon and created monetary fines for those found responsible for polluting it. On the conservation side, local and state governments are investing in projects to reduce the number of pollutants entering the lagoon, clean up existing contaminants, and improve water flow. Currently, the Indian River Lagoon is also part of the Everglades restoration project, which seeks to address the lagoon’s issues while restoring the much larger Everglades ecosystem.

Despite the efforts to restore it, the IRL still faces many challenges. Nutrient runoff into the lagoon continues to be a major issue, as is the overpopulation of invasive species. Additionally, many local governments still struggle to adequately enforce regulations meant to protect the lagoon from human activity, such as from housing developments and large-scale agriculture. These problems have led to a decrease in the lagoon’s natural habitats, as well as a decrease in the population of native species that make up the lagoon’s ecosystem.

The Indian River Lagoon is a fragile ecosystem in dire need of protection and restoration. The solutions to the lagoon’s pollution, overpopulation, and degradation will require long-term solutions and ongoing commitment from citizens, local governments, and the state of Florida. We must all work together to protect and restore this vital estuary to save it for the generations to come.