Indian River Lagoon

Indian River Lagoon

Aerial view of Indian River Lagoon

Map of lagoon and surrounding area
Main source Sea level
Basin size 2,187.5 sq mi (5,666 km2)
Physical characteristics
Length 156 mi (251 km)

The Indian River Lagoon is a grouping of three lagoons: Mosquito Lagoon, Banana River, and the Indian River, on the Atlantic Coast of Florida; it is the most biodiverse lagoon ecosystem in the Northern hemisphere and is home to more than 3,000 species of plants and animals.[1][2][3]

The Lagoon contains five state parks, four federal wildlife refuges and a national seashore.[4]


The Indian River Lagoon was originally known as the Rio de Ais, after the Ais Indian tribe, who lived along the east coast of Florida.

Prior to the arrival of the railroad, the river was once an essential transportation link.[5]

From 1989 to 2013, the population along the lagoon increased 50% to 1.6 million people.[6]


The full length of the Indian River Lagoon is 156 miles (251 km), extending from Ponce de León Inlet in Volusia County, Florida, to Jupiter Inlet in Palm Beach County, Florida,[7][8] and includes Cape Canaveral. Lake Okeechobee is connected to the lagoon by the Okeechobee Waterway and the St. Lucie River meeting in Sewall's Point.

From north to south, the Indian River Lagoon system includes the following:

Natural history

The Indian River Lagoon is North America’s most diverse estuary, with more than 2100 species of plants and 2200 animals; it includes 35 species listed as threatened or endangered — more than any other estuary in North America.[9][10] The lagoon has about 2,500 types of animals in it. The Lagoon varies in width from .5 to 5 miles (0.80 to 8.05 km) and averages 4 feet (1.2 m) in depth.[9] It serves as a spawning and nursery ground for many different species of oceanic and lagoon fish and shellfish. The lagoon also has one of the most diverse bird populations anywhere in America. Nearly 1/3 of the nation’s manatee population lives here or migrates through the Lagoon seasonally. In addition, its ocean beaches provide one of the densest sea turtle nesting areas found in the Western Hemisphere. Between 200 and 800 Bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) also live in the Indian River Lagoon.[11][12]

Red Drum, Spotted seatrout, Common snook, and the Tarpon are the main gamefish sought by anglers in the Titusville area of the lagoon system.[13]

Seagrass is a critical component to the overall health of the lagoon.[14] By 1990, it had surpassed levels reached in 1943.

River modifications

From 1913 to 2013, activity by humans has increased the watershed for the lagoon from 572,000 acres (231,000 ha) to 1,400,000 acres (570,000 ha) increasing runoff of freshwater and nutrients from farms. Both have been detrimental to lagoon health.[6] The wetlands are needed to cleanse the lagoon. About 40,000 acres (16,000 ha) of land were lost to mosquito control and have been restored, but by 2013, recovery was incomplete.[6]

Mangroves are important to marine life. Between the 1940s and 2013, 85% of them had been removed for housing development.

In 1990, the Florida Legislature passed the Indian River Lagoon Act, requiring most sewer plants to stop discharging into the lagoon by 1996. Some sports fish rebounded in population in the 1990s when gill nets were banned and pollution in the lagoon was reduced. In 1995 the seagrass covered over 100,000 acres (40,000 ha).[14][15]

In 2007, concerns were raised about the future of the lagoon system, especially in the southern half where frequent freshwater discharges seriously threatened water quality, decreasing the salinity needed by many fish species, and have contributed to large algae blooms promoted by water saturated with plant fertilizers. In the mid 1990s, the lagoon has been the subject of research on light penetration for photosynthesis in submerged aquatic vegetation.[14]

In 2010, 3,300,000 pounds (1,500,000 kg) of nitrogen and 475,000 pounds (215,000 kg) of phosphorus entered the lagoon.[16]

In 2011, a "superbloom" of phytoplankton resulted in the loss of 32,000 acres (13,000 ha) of lagoon seagrass. In 2012, a brown tide bloom fouled the northern lagoon. The county has approval for funds to investigate these unusual blooms to see if they can be prevented.[17]

Catches of blue crabs dropped unevenly from 4,265,063 pounds (1,934,600 kg) in 1987 to 389,795 pounds (176,808 kg) in 2012, but with high catches in 1998, 1991, alternating with low catch years. These crabs require 2% salt content in the water to survive. A drought increases the salt content and heavy rainfall decreases it. Both of these conditions have recurred over the past decades and are believed to have had an adverse effect on the crab population.[18]

In 2013, algae blooms and loss of sea grass destroyed all gains.[6] In 2013, four major problems with lagoon water quality were identified. 1) Excess nitrogen and phosphorus from runoff from the application of fertilizer; 2) an estimated 8 to 11% septic tank failures of tens of thousands of septic tanks in the county. 3) Muck from construction, farming, erosion and dead plants find their way to the bottom of the lagoon, preventing growth and consuming vital oxygen essential to marine flora and fauna; 4) Invasive species, including the Asian green mussel, South American charru mussel, and the Australian spotted jellyfish, eat clams and fish larvae.[19]

In 2016, there were an estimated 300,000 septic tanks in the five-county area bordering the Lagoon.[20] At one time, sewer plants were worse polluters. In 1986, there were 46 sewer plants along the 156 miles (251 km) lagoon. They discharged about 55,000,000 US gallons (210,000,000 l; 46,000,000 imp gal) daily into the estuary. The state ended most sewer plant pollution by 1995.[21]


According to the Florida Oceanographic Society, nearly 1 million people live and work in the Indian River Lagoon region. The Lagoon accounts for $300 million in fisheries revenues, includes a $2.1 billion citrus industry, and generates more than $300 million in boat and marine sales annually.[22]

In 2007, visitors spent an estimated 3.2 million person-days in recreation on the lagoon.[23]

In 2008, Hazen and Sawyer,P.C. submitted a report titled “Indian River Lagoon Economic Assessment and Analysis Update” to Troy Rice, Director of the Indian River Lagoon National Estuary Program, St. Johns River Water Management District. The report described the estimated 2007 recreational uses and economic value of the Indian River Lagoon to residents and visitors of the five counties that comprise the Lagoon system. The sum of recreational expenditures and recreational use value was estimated at $2.1 billion.[24]

See also


  1. "The 20 Best Small Towns to Visit in 2015 -- 3. Stuart, Florida".
  2. "U.S. Army Corps of Engineers - FACT SHEET COMPREHENSIVE E VERGLADES R ESTORATION P LAN Indian River Lagoon – South" (PDF).
  3. "Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP): Indian River Lagoon South".
  4. "Florida Oceanographic Society - Indian River Lagoon Fact Sheet" (PDF).
  5. Johnston, Larry (May 15, 2016). "What's the history behind a waterway's name?". Florida Today. Melbourne, Florida. pp. 17A. Retrieved May 15, 2016.
  6. 1 2 3 4 Waymer, Jim (October 13, 2013). "Leaders to discuss lagoon cures during special meeting.Talking solutions". Florida Today. Melbourne, Florida: Gannett. pp. 6A. Retrieved October 19, 2013.
  7. Indian River Lagoon Comprehensive Conservation Management Plan
  8. Indian River Indian River Lagoon
  9. 1 2

  11. Smithsonian Marine Station at Fort Pierce - Tursiops truncatus - Habitat and Distribution
    Field Study - Indian River Lagoon Dolphins - Dolphin 56 Sighting Ssummary
  12. Soper, Shawn J. (May 6, 2011). "Dolphin 56 Back Dazzling Boaters In Ocean City". The Dispatch (Ocean City, Maryland). Retrieved 6 June 2012.
  14. 1 2 3 Hanisak, M. Dennis (1997). "Continuous Monitoring of Underwater Light in Indian River Lagoon: Comparison of Cosine and Spherical Sensors.". In: EJ Maney, Jr and CH Ellis, Jr (Eds.) The Diving for Science…1997, Proceedings of the American Academy of Underwater Sciences, Seventeenth annual Scientific Diving Symposium. Retrieved 2009-04-02.
  15. Dawes, Clinton J.; M. Dennis Hanisak,; Judson W. Kenworthy (1995). "Seagrass biodiversity in the Indian River Lagoon". Bulletin of Marine Science. 57 (1): 59–66. Retrieved 2009-04-02.
  16. "Editorial:Dying dolphins". Melbourne, Florida: Florida Today. 22 May 2010. pp. 13A.
  17. Waymer, Jim (April 25, 2013). "Panel approves $1.2 million in lagoon projects". Florida Today. Melbourne, Florida. pp. 2B.
  18. Waymer, Jim (September 8, 2013). "Lagoon crab catches dwindle". Florida Today. Melbourne, Florida. pp. 1A,3A. Retrieved September 13, 2013.
  19. Waymer, Jim (September 29, 2013). "Do something!". Florida Today. Melbourne, Florida. pp. 4A.
  20. How septic tanks may imperil this Florida ecosystem' on YouTube
  21. Berman, Dave (March 20, 2016). "Some issues remain half century later". Florida Today. Melbourne, Florida. p. 11.
  22. "Florida Oceanographic Society - Indian River Lagoon Fact Sheet" (PDF).
  23. "Visitors spend big on the lagoon". Indian River Lagoon Update. XVI (3): 1. Summer 2008.
  24. Section 7.


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