Keep Indian River Beautiful gives PIAS its Environmental Organization Award

The President’s Hoot
by Richard H. Baker, Ph.D.
March 2016

PIAS and our Audubon House received two awards within a year. First the Indian River Chamber of Commerce for our architectural “Birdhouse” design by Richard Bialosky, Jeff Ray, and Amy Thoma gave the first award to us, services gratefully provided pro bono. Now Keep Indian River Beautiful (KIRB) honored us for our nature landscaping: saving and transplanting 27 cabbage palms and other native plants from the Audubon House construction site and placing them around our new building. Robin Pelensky, Surlaterre Landscape Architect, in collaboration with Janice Broda, did the native plant landscaping design also pro bono.

Robin Pelensky, Richard Baker, KIRB Executive Director Daisy Packer, and KIRB Treasurer Art Spilios

At their Environmental Awards Luncheon, KIRB gave awards to several organizations and individuals helping to maintain the beauty of our county. Their impressive 2015 annual report reveals they have 1,600 volunteers who have removed 20,000 lbs. of trash and litter from our roads, beaches, and lands; they planted 32 trees, and reached 52,000 residents. We are particularly proud of their efforts since the first coastal clean-up was started by PIAS and was recognized in 1986 by the U.S. Dept. of Interior for this effort. Beach and coastal clean–ups are now worldwide events. We are happy KIRB continues to make our county a better place to enjoy nature.

Now our focus is on our Indian River Lagoon (IRL), to restore it to its original beauty with clean, clear waters, so that it may be healthy again for both wildlife and people. We now have again another Brown Tide in the northern Lagoon and highly polluted water being released from Lake Okeechobee into the southern Lagoon via the St. Lucie River. This must STOP! We have hope in the new IRL National Estuary Program Council, with its Executive Director, Dr. Duane DeFreese. While City of Vero Beach and Sebastian elected council members participate in the Council, unfortunately our county commissioners have chosen not to join though they profess to want to help the Lagoon.

The County has made progress by installing a Main Canal Screening System developing the Egret Marsh Stormwater Park, South Canal Algal Nutrient Removal Facility, West Regional Wastewater Treatment Facility, and passing a strong fertilizer ordinance. However, those alone are insufficient to the challenges at hand. We need everyone working together to stop pollution from agricultural and residents that are fouling our beautiful Lagoon. What else would help? Let’s use our imaginations. Here is a sample list: aggressive expansion of sewer services to reduce the number of septic tanks; stopping the indiscriminate herbiciding of canal and ditch banks; planting native plant alternatives to lawn-grass (reducing high use pesticides, fertilizers, herbicides) around all water margins, including inland lakes, canals and ponds; filtering water going into the lagoon; and protecting lands through purchase or perpetual easement, such as for water storage and cleansing.

In a new effort, PIAS and number of organizations, including Ocean Research & Conservation Association (ORCA), Marine Resources Council (MRC), Sierra Club, and Audubon chapters along the Treasure coast are forming a new independent–citizens, Indian River Lagoon-wide coalition that will encourage greater political support to Dr. DeFreese and the IRL NEP Council, and encourage our elected officials who have not yet protected our plants, animals, water and environment for us and the next generation to act. If you are interested in helping as an individual, a member of a business, or an organization that cares about the health of the Lagoon, please call our Audubon office, 772-567-03520 or email

On March 21 at our annual meeting in Vero Beach, we will be honoring some individuals and groups who have helped PIAS and our environment.

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