Research Groups

Article from TC Palm:

Throughout the 156-mile length of the Indian River Lagoon, researchers are taking water samples, analyzing marine life and digging into muck to try to better understand what’s in the lagoon and what’s damaging it. According to a 2008 study commissioned by the Indian River Lagoon National Estuary Program, $90.8 million a year is spent on lagoon research, restoration and education.


Researchers are studying everything from the loss of about 47,000 acres of seagrass to the health and environmental risks to bottlenose dolphins — 200 of which scientists have captured, examined, sampled, marked and released since 2003.

Brian Lapointe, a Harbor Branch research biologist, is studying the effects of the approximately 300,000 septic tanks in the lagoon’s watershed. Human waste from leaking tanks, Lapointe said, is more than a significant contributor to increased pollution in the lagoon.

“It’s the smoking gun,” Lapointe said.

Nitrogen and phosphorous, which septic tank systems do not remove, play a major role spreading algae in the lagoon, which kills seagrass, eliminating a primary food source for wildlife.

Read more of Lapointe’s research publications.


The Fort Pierce-based nonprofit is trying to raise $6 million to take sediment samples and deploy 50 water monitors, called Kilroys, throughout the 156-mile lagoon.

ORCA has deployed 10 Kilroys so far, with plans for another four in Indian River County in late June or early July. All six St. Lucie County Kilroys are in the Fort Pierce Inlet area. The four in Martin County are near Hell’s Gate, Willoughby Creek, the St. Lucie Inlet and outside the Florida Oceanographic Institute. After ORCA receives permits, four more Kilroys will be deployed in Indian River County, near the Vero Beach Yacht Club and the Main, North Relief and South Relief canals.

Kilroys measure:

• Water depth

• Water flow, direction and speed

• Salinity

• Turbidity

• Temperature

• Wave conditions

• Barometric pressure

A live data feed is available online.


Researchers who have been studying seagrass in the lagoon for almost 40 years say they not only serve as nurseries for small fish and other marine creatures and provide food for larger species such as manatees and sea turtles. They also store almost three times as much carbon in their roots and the soil around them as rainforests do. That’s 83,000 metric tons per square kilometer for seagrass versus 30,000 metric tons per square kilometer for rainforests.

Scientists have been have been focusing on the high diversity of species in the lagoon’s environments, including mangrove swamps, oyster and seagrass beds, sand and mud flats, as well as the coral and worm reefs along the Treasure Coast’s shoreline.

Read the Indian River Lagoon Species Inventory and the Field Guide to the Indian River Lagoon.


Its four-year, approximately $3.7 million Indian River Lagoon Protection Initiative will increase scientific understanding of the lagoon system through:

• Monitoring

• Data collection

• Field and lab work

• Model development

Now in its first phase, work is focusing on:

• Water quality monitoring

• Seagrass transplant experiments

• Studies of drift algae.

By the end of the four years, the knowledge gained will be applied to managing lagoon resources. Projects will be focused on the Mosquito, northern Indian River and Banana River lagoons.

Available online is the 2011 superbloom investigation.


A new problem, the invasive and venomous lionfish, was first discovered in the lagoon in 2009. The spiny predator has no natural local predators and threaten the hundreds of species of fish and shellfish that use the lagoon as a nursery.

The only research on lionfish being conducted in the lagoon is by Emily Dark, a master’s degree candidate at Antioch University under the mentorship of Jeff Beal, a biological scientist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

According to Dark, lionfish are widespread in the Atlantic off the Treasure Coast, and their larvae float into the lagoon on the tides. They can be found under ledges and among mangrove roots.

Video of a lagoon lionfish.

Click here to return to the main story.

Click here to return to the main Our Indian River Lagoon page.

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