Part One: The Current State of The Indian River, FL Lagoon and The Risks to its Economic Impact.


Duane De Freese, Ph.D, Executive Director of the Indian River Lagoon (IRL) Council and Indian River Lagoon National Estuary Program.


Duane De Freese, Ph.D., has over 20-years experience in marine and coastal scientific research, conservation, coastal policy and education in Florida.

According to Dr. De Freese, the bad news is that it will take years and cost billions to clean it.

But, he said, the good news is that “if Elon Musk’s SpaceX can launch a satellite using a Falcon 9 rocket whose first stage already had one spaceflight under its belt, and if SpaceX has been contracted by two private individuals to send them in a Dragon spacecraft on a return trajectory around the Moon, and if Mr. Musk believes his company can establish a million-person city on mars, then we ought to be able to fix our plumbing problems.”

First, some background. In the United States, the National Estuary Program was created by the 1987 amendments to the Clean Water Act to provide grants to states where their governors identified nationally significant estuaries that are threatened by pollution, land development, or overuse.

The governors identified a total of 28 estuaries from Casco Bay, Maine to Puget Sound in Washington. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) awards grants to these states to develop comprehensive management plans to restore and protect the estuaries.

Unfortunately, said Dr. De Freese, President Trump’s proposed EPA budget cuts will result in a 27% reduction in funding to support his programs.

The IRL Council was created in 2015 as an independent special district of Florida and in 2016 it became the host organization for the IRLNEP.  Members of the Board of Directors include: the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the St. Johns River and South Florida Water Management Districts, and one elected offcial from each of the IRL counties. Each member organization contributes funding, leadership and technical guidance to the program. The EPA serves in an advisory, non-voting capacity.

(Note: The IRL Council has recently introduced a new tag line, “One Lagoon, One Community, One Voice.”)

As written in IRLNEP’s 2016 Annual Report, the IRL “is in a state of overall decline that threatens our environment, economy and quality of life.  These challenges are complex. Symptoms include seagrass losses, wildlife deaths, the collapse of commercial shell harvesting, damaging freshwater discharges and continuous algal blooms, both toxic and non-toxic. (Emphasis added.)

The vulnerability of the system was clearly demonstrated in 2011 with an algal ‘superbloom’ and again during the 2015- 2016 El Niño season when the IRL made national and international headlines for intense blooms of toxic cyanobacteria in the southern lagoon, and brown tides with associated fish kills in the central and northern lagoon.

For the first time, the global tourism brand for the IRL as a destination for clean water and world-class fishing are in question.”

However, Dr. De Freese said, “The IRL is not static.  Conditions change.  People need to do their homework and evaluate environmental risks.”


The Indian River Lagoon was originally named the Rio De Ais by early Spanish Explorers due to the large numbers of Ais Indians living along its shores. (Space Coast Outdoors.)

Here are some statistics cited by the IRLNEP 2016 Annual Report as to why the IRL is so important to the Treasure Coast:

Total Economic Value of IRL: $ 7,64 billion annually

Total Annual Incomes from IRL-Related Industry: $ 2.1 billion annually

Return on Investment: 33:1 ($ 1.00 spent on achieving a sustainable IRL returns $ 33.00 in total economic value.)

Value of IRL’s Living Resources: $ 48.2 million

Valuation of IRL’s Marine Industry: $ 767.4 million

Total IRL Region Visitors in 2014: 7.4 million

85 Visitors = 1 job

IRL Related Jobs: 71,918

Mr. De Freese emphasized that “science needs to drive IRL-related decisions, not opinions.  It’s not what people think they know.  Its the facts.”

The IRL Council has appointed a diverse group of over 70 scientists, resource managers, community leaders and citizens to serve as advisors and subject-matter experts on the science of cleaning the IRL. Working together, they are applying the best science and leading-edge technologies to focus on efficient nutrient reduction projects, habitat restoration projects, public engagement programs and other efforts to restore the IRL. Local communities are also taking leadership roles in IRL restoration.

One of the goals of the IRL Council is to achieve heightened public awareness and coordinated inter-agency management of the Indian River Lagoon ecosystem.

And to get people to be more responsible about how they treat IRC.  “One of our biggest challenges is “how do get people to change?”

In our next article we will review how the IRL Council is funded and some of the many projects they have undertaken and will undertake in the future.

“To achieve success, where we are eating IRL oysters, clams and fish, its going to take one person at a time, one group at a time, one community at a time until we engage the entire population,” said Dr. De Freese.





One thought on “Part One: The Current State of The Indian River, FL Lagoon and The Risks to its Economic Impact.

  1. Pingback: Part Two: The Five Reporting Regions of the Indian River, FL Lagoon | Vero Communiqué

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