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Seagrass beds in Indian River Lagoon near Vero found to be relatively stable


When Dennis Hanisak,  organizer of the annual Indian River Lagoon Symposium, was asked last week about the state of the lagoon today compared to its condition after the outbreak of the catastrophic 2011 algae "superbloom," his response was not upbeat.

"In eight years, has the lagoon gotten better or worse? It has not gotten better," he answered. "It's at a pretty low level. It's going to take a fair amount of time to do the restoration that needs to be done.”

But Hanisak also had some good news. Among many gloomy scientific reports at the symposium, one of the few bright shops came from his own study of seagrass near Vero Beach.

He found that over the past 10 years, seagrass beds in the south-central lagoon from north of Vero Beach south to Fort Pierce have remained relatively stable, despite pollution, algae blooms and other environmental stressors.

This stretch of the lagoon is "an important refuge for seagrass beds and the organisms they support – an Ark," he told the symposium, in an apparent reference to the biblical Noah's Ark that protected biodiversity from deadly floods. "Sea grasses are resilient when given the chance."

Hanisak's findings correspond with a just-completed study by Vero Beach marine scientist Dr. Grant Gilmore that found unprecedented sea trout spawning activity in the Vero Beach-Fort Pierce area last summer.  Sea trout are considered an important bellwether of water quality and sea grass health in the lagoon.

On the second day of the symposium Friday morning, representatives of the five counties bordering the lagoon described what their agencies are doing to help save the waterway – long considered the most biodiverse estuary in the United States – and answered questions from the audience.

Indian River County utilities director Vincent Burke discussed several projects going back to 2010 aimed at removing nitrogen and phosphorus from stormwater before it enters the lagoon such, as the Spoonbill and Egret marshes.  He said a new project – the Osprey Acres Floway and Nature Preserve – is slated to be completed in the next month or two. 

Bordered by Oslo Road to the south and 5th Street SW to the north, the 83-acre project is expected to filter more than 10 million gallons of untreated canal water each day, removing harmful chemicals, and polish treated water from the South County Water Treatment Plant before sending it back to the lagoon.