Pelican Island Audubon Society wants to get rid of grass to save the lagoon

Pelican Island Audubon Society president Dr. Richard Baker says grassy lawns are bad for the Indian River Lagoon.

Grass lawns don’t “do anything for anybody,” Baker said. “It looks nice, but you can’t eat it. It uses water, fuel, herbicides and pesticides.”

Locally, lawn irrigation water loaded with chemicals – as much as 200 gallons per person per day – eventually ends up in the lagoon via storm sewers, run-off or ground-water seepage, Baker said.

That is a pollutant load the lagoon, which has suffered algae blooms, fish and marine mammal kills, and seagrass loss over the past decade, does not need.

To push back against what Baker calls “the wastefulness of the American lawn,” and encourage people to landscape with native plants instead of turf, Pelican Island Audubon Society is presenting the third annual “Transforming Landscapes for a Sustainable Future” – a daylong conference scheduled for Jan. 25 at the Emerson Center in Vero Beach that is expected to attract more than 300 attendees.

To help spread the benefits of natural landscapes – they require less water, no pesticides, no fertilizer, and provide habitat for birds and all sorts of other creatures – Baker said everyone who attends the conference will go home with a free native plant. And Audubon is offering to waive the $25 admission fee for all presidents of homeowners’ associations who, Baker says, often stymie their members’ attempts to decorate with Florida plants and trees.

“We’d like to see the HOAs lighten up a bit,” Baker said.

The roster of speakers at the conference includes scientific researchers, professional landscape architects, members of the Native Plant Society, and Baker himself, who will discuss replacing St. Augustine turf grass with native plants and trees.

Nurseries will have native plants for sale, and other vendors will be stationed at booths around the conference.

Baker said Audubon has been working with the cities of Vero Beach, Sebastian and Fellsmere to promote native plant landscaping. He praised Vero Vice Mayor Laura Moss for getting all the sod removed from the west side of city hall and working with local landscape architect Robin Pelensky to plant rain gardens on the east side. Sebastian and Fellsmere officials, he said, also have committed to planting natives.

Admission to the seminar is $25 through Jan. 18; $35 after that. For tickets and additional information, go to www.pelicanislandaudubon.org or call 772-567-3520.

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