Stretching 156 miles and containing 2,100 species of plants and 2,200 species of animals, the Indian River Lagoon is an invaluable natural resource that has also been the economic bedrock for communities along Florida’s east coast for over a century, providing more than $300 million annually, with 3.2 million person-days in recreation and some of the most valuable real estate in the country.
However, seasons of record rainfall carrying debris and refuse from yards, farms, parking lots, and roads have loaded the waters of the Indian River Lagoon with sediments and pollutants that block the sun from sea grasses and silt over oysters. Nutrients from storm water runoff fuel uncontrolled algae and plankton growth that kill fish and endanger human health. Greater numbers of people now see the lagoon as a polluted waterbody that should be avoided instead of enjoyed.
UF/IFAS Extension is working to change this in Brevard, St. Lucie, and Martin counties through collaboration, partnership, and education. In Martin County, the collaboration of the Florida Yards and Neighborhoods program, Sea Grant, and 4-H Youth Development has resulted in the creation of an oyster gardening educational program that brings children, families, and volunteers to the lagoon to gain a better understanding of its ecology and beauty. By developing a program that has a direct positive impact on the lagoon, contains internal support (4-H and Sea Grant faculty in office), and provides a hands-on learning experience for youth, the Oyster Gardening program provides an affordable way for educators to work with youth on an important project.
4-H Youth planting the seeds of change for the Indian River Lagoon. UF/IFAS Photo by Jeff Gellerman