Though the plight of the Indian River Lagoon has faded from the news somewhat in the several years since widespread illness among bottlenose dolphins was first discovered and unprecedented algae blooms decimated the waterway’s extraordinary ecology, the lagoon is still plagued with high levels of pollution that endanger many of the species that call it home.
Now the Pelican Island Audubon Society is aiming to reawaken awareness and help solve some of the underlying problems, inviting local residents to attend a lagoon conference focused on native landscaping and responsible use of fertilizer.
Local Audubon President Dr. Richard Baker said he was approached by members of The Moorings Club who saw disturbing images of the canals feeding into the lagoon in and around the south barrier island community.
The Moorings waterways appeared red on the images, indicating high quantities of nitrogen in the water. Since that part of the Moorings is on a sewer system, the most likely culprits, Baker said, are lawns and fertilizers.
“One of the residents of The Anchor in The Moorings gave me a call and said, ‘We are embarrassed, and we’d like to do something about it with you as the Audubon organization,’” Baker said.
Audubon responded by organizing a two-day educational conference scheduled for Jan. 19 and 20 at the Emerson Center on 27th Avenue. The keynote speaker is Dr. Doug Tallamy, an ecologist at the University of Delaware and author of “Bringing Nature Home and How You Can Sustain Wildlife With Native Plants.”
Edie Widder, a world-renowned scientist who founded and runs the Ocean Research and Conservation Association, Inlet, is another high-profile speaker. “Edie is going to be talking about the quality of the lagoon that we have now,” Baker said.
Other speakers include Steve Turnipseed, who founded a thriving native plant society in The Villages near Ocala, and attorney Jacob Ensor of Ross Earle Bonan and Ensor P.A., who will speak on how to deal with homeowner associations with regard to landscaping regulations.
Baker said “HOAs are a problem,” because many of them mandate grass lawns, which require lots of water and tend to be over fertilized. There are 630 HOAs throughout the county, and all the presidents have been invited to the conference, Baker added.
“We have to create the demand for native plants,” that require much less water and fertilizer. “You can make native plants look just as well as the alien plants we’re planting.”
“It’s beautiful what can be done with native plants,” Councilwoman Laura Moss said in agreement, when Baker presented the conference plan to the Vero Beach City Council. Moss praised the speakers and urged residents attend the conference to learn what they can personally do to help the lagoon.
Councilman Val Zudans said he is hopeful that doing things like choosing native plants comes more naturally to the younger generations who have been educated about the lagoon. “The kids know more about this than we do, which is good,” he said.
Conference sponsors include Florida Power & Light, the Grand Harbour Audubon Society, Sunrise Rotary Club, National Estuary Program, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Environmental Learning Center.
Because of the support of those and other organizations, the conference registration fee is only $25, which Baker said covers a wine and cheese reception on Friday night and a continental breakfast and box lunch on Saturday.
A full list of speakers and programs, as well as online registration, is available at pelicanislandaudubon.org