Why the Indian River Lagoon Needs Our Help

Recent History of the Decline Fertilizer regulations are mandated by state law for all counties and municipalities located in the watershed of an impaired body of water. The Indian River Lagoon, which includes the Banana River Lagoon and the Mosquito Lagoon, was first recognized by the SWIM Program as a troubled water system in 1987. Fast forward 22 years, after mountains of investigative study, under the direction of new water quality programs, the IRL was once again verified nutrient impaired in May 2009. This set in motion the need for fertilizer use regulations, an area wide plan designed to reduce the nutrient pollution of nitrogen and phosphate to the IRL. But, if this initial effort to control nutrient pollution doesn't produce the return of sea grass, the State will be forced to seek stronger remedies to reduce nutrient pollution.
Fertilizer enters the Lagoon via storm water runoff. F
ertilizer also vaporizes and rains back down as atmospheric deposition and fertilizer leaches into the groundwater. Diverting storm water into the IRL keeps the watershed communities from flooding, making modern Florida possible. We owe so much of this success to sending our storm water conveniently and economically to the IRL. Now it's time to return the favor. It's up to all of us to keep the water that passes through our yards as clean as possible so we don't destroy this rare and fragile estuary system. The plan is simple. The most practical and cheapest way for everyone to contribute to the better health of the IRL is to stop fertilizer pollution: use it at the right time, use only what you need, use slow release nitrogen, don't use phosphate and don't fertilizer in the rainy season.
"The Indian River Lagoon is a diverse, shallow-water estuary stretching across 40 percent of Florida’s east coast. Spanning 156 miles from Ponce de Leon Inlet in Volusia County to Jupiter Inlet in Palm Beach County, the lagoon is an important commercial and recreational fishery and economic resource to the state and region. The total estimated annual economic value of the lagoon is $3.7 billion, supporting 15,000 full and part-time jobs and providing recreational opportunities for 11 million people per year...

In spring 2011, an algal super bloom occurred in the portion of the system known as Banana River Lagoon and eventually spread into northern Indian River Lagoon and farther north into the Mosquito Lagoon. The immense bloom covered approximately 130,000 acres and led to a noticeable reduction in water quality. Concurrently, a lesser bloom extended from just north of Melbourne south to the Vero Beach-Fort Pierce area.
Approximately 47,000 acres of seagrasses were lost, a reduction of about 60 percent. These blooms and the resulting seagrass decline far exceeded any documented or remembered events in terms of geographic scale, bloom intensity and duration.

The magnitude of the seagrass loss is alarming because seagrass is:

  • An indicator of the lagoon’s health
  • A food source for manatees
  • A nursery, refuge and a place of forage for a variety of fish and other marine life 

Also in August 2012, a brown tide bloom began in the Mosquito Lagoon and moved into the northern Indian River Lagoon near Titusville. Compounding concerns are the mounting losses of manatees and pelicans since July 2012 and bottlenose dolphins since Jan. 1, 2013. State biologists are investigating the deaths of approximately 100 manatees, between 250–300 pelicans and 29 bottlenose dolphins to determine whether there is a link to the blooms or the loss of seagrass..." 

"Scientists are not sure of the exact conditions that triggered the blooms but the underlying cause is clear. Excess algae will grow only when excess nutrients are there to feed it. If we do not act quickly and decisively, we face the loss of our fishery. Dr. Grant Gilmore, considered to be the foremost expert on lagoon biology, recently stated that, if we don't act there may not be a next generation of fish. The way we fertilize our yards is a major contributor to nutrient pollution of the lagoon. Test results on Florida's west coast show a significant reduction of nutrients in the water as a direct result of a strong fertilizer ordinance..."

Joel Steward, a technical program manager with the St. Johns River Water Management District said controlling loads of nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus) entering from the watershed remains the “best bang for the buck” in terms of sustainable management of the lagoon. 

Excessive nutrient loading to Florida’s surface and ground waters is one of the biggest water quality issues facing our state. It is far easier and much less expensive to minimize the amount of nutrients that get into our waters than it is to treat stormwater and other nonpoint sources of pollution to remove nutrients. A major source of nutrient loading is from fertilizers applied to urban landscaping.