National Estuaries Day celebrates wonders of lagoon

Nature lovers flocked to the Environmental Learning Center last Saturday to marvel at the wonders of the lagoon during the annual National Estuaries Day Celebration, sponsored by the Indian River Lagoon Council.

In addition to roaming among the flora and fauna that inhabit the 64-acre campus, attendees learned about the far-reaching importance of the Indian River Lagoon. It is identified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as one of 28 estuaries of national significance; the only one identified as such on Florida’s east coast.

The lagoon, one of the most bio-diverse, shallow-water estuaries in North America, spans 156 miles and is home to more than 2,200 species of animals and 2,100 species of plants.

Many visitors came early to participate in the International Coastal Cleanup Day, doing their part to improve the environment by collecting trash during a Canoe Trip Cleanup. Volunteers earned conservational kudos along with free admission to the ELC for the rest of the festivities.

“I am extremely happy.  Our staff and volunteers worked together to grow our National Estuaries Day celebration to include teaming with our fellow community organizations to engage in active clean-up today of our precious estuary. The more we all work together as a team, the more we will truly accomplish to make our world a better place for all,” said Molly Steinwald, ELC executive director.

The two events go hand-in-hand, as the goal of the National Estuary Week program is to increase awareness about the importance of estuaries, considered the “cradles of the ocean.”

Various ELC community conservation partners, including Brevard Zoo, Disney’s Vero Beach Resort, Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute at FAU, Pelican Island Audubon Society, Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge and Plastic Free Florida hosted booths with hands-on activities meant to engage and educate nature enthusiasts of all ages.

Visitors learned about local wildlife and the damages plastics have on the lagoon and its marine life. Sea turtle goggles helped attendees identify their role in the pollution of our waterways and various ways they can be part of the solution going forward.

For anyone wanting to simply immerse themselves in nature, there was dip-netting and seining in the pond, canoeing, strolls along 1.5-miles miles of boardwalks and trails, and visits to the Touch Tank and Discovery Station Interactive Museum.

“This was one of my favorite places when I was a child, so it was great to come out today and share it with my children,” said Katherine Lazarus, who grew up in Vero Beach. “The hands-on activities help kids understand. My daughter is five years old and already concerned about the environment. Estuaries Day is a great way to help her see how she can help make a difference.”

For some ‘not so spooky fun for all ages,’ the ELC will host a Half-Haunted Halloween Oct. 26 at 5 p.m. For more information, visit discoverelc.org.

Photos by: Denise Ritchie
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