Life support for a languished Lagoon

The President’s Hoot
by Richard H. Baker, Ph.D.
April 2008

This morning from the Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge tower, we watched some wonderful birds.  In fact, all but one of the bird species depicted on the tower’s display board reminded us that Pelican Island and the birds were preserved by Paul Kroegel when he became the first Audubon warden of the first National Wildlife Refuge.  Paul Kroegel is an example of how one person, especially working with others, can change the course of this country, county, and our Lagoon.

Our U.S. Rep. Tom Mahoney, to the south of us, would like to see our 156-mile Indian River Lagoon receive more federal protection and is proposing designating it a National Marine Sanctuary.  He, like many of us, is concerned with the declining quality of our Lagoon’s water, recent algae blooms and Red Tide, dwindling seagrasses and mangroves, and sick dolphins, turtles, and fish.  Mahoney’s plan needs serious consideration.  Our Lagoon is a precious resource, not only for our own emotional restoration, but valuable for attracting tourism, providing food for our tables, a nursery for our fish and sustenance for our nesting birds, in addition to providing our recreation and pleasure.  The mangroves in the Lagoon also protect us against hurricanes inundating our homes.

At the moment we have many government agencies involved in trying to protect the Lagoon:

  • Two water management districts (St. Johns & South Florida)
  • U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
  • Florida Department of Environmental Protection
  • U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
  • Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission
  • National Marine Fisheries
  • National Estuary Program
  • Many buffer preserves, state parks, and aquatic preserves
  • Six county governments (health and environmental departments)]
  • Six mosquito control districts
  • Numerous local water control districts

Nevertheless, we do need one governmental organization, perhaps the National Marine Sanctuary headed by one person, a “Lagoon Czar,” to be responsible for coordinating the drastically needed actions, policies, resources, and activities essential for the recovery of our Lagoon.

Indian River Lagoon by Bob Montanaro.

Even before Mahoney’s proposal, our Audubon chapter under Joe Carroll’s leadership has been discussing forming an Indian River Lagoon Coalition composed of interested Audubon Chapters (Martin and St. Lucie), non-Audubon groups (i.e. Marine Resources Council, Indian River Keeper, Sierra Club), and including our commerce, fishing and boating communities to promote the health and welfare of the Lagoon.

Under the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 14 National Marine Sanctuaries work cooperatively with the public and federal, state, and local officials to promote conservation while allowing compatible commercial and recreational activities.  The primary objective of the sanctuaries is to protect their natural and cultural features while allowing people to use and enjoy them in a sustainable way.  Much of the Florida Keys are under their protection.

Our Lagoon is so unique and diverse that everyone should be able to enjoy its beauty.  We support Rep. Tim Mahoney’s effort to provide Life Support for a Languishing Lagoon.

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