Love Your Lagoon: Eco-conscious efforts paying off

Cyndi Permenter, Katha Kissman and Debbie Dutton [Photo: Denise Ritchie]

More than 150 Indian River Lagoon advocates gathered for the ninth annual Love Your Lagoon fundraiser at the Oak Harbor Club last Friday evening to benefit the Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute Foundation.

The heart of life on the Treasure Coast, the lagoon is one of the most biodiverse estuaries in the Northern Hemisphere, encompassing 40 percent of Florida’s east coast and home to more than 4,300 species of plants and animals.

“Our very first event was launched in 2012 in response to the major and unprecedented harmful algal bloom in the Indian River Lagoon,” said Katha Kissman HBOIF president/CEO. “The board at the time wanted to find a way to raise funds to heighten awareness about what was happening with the Indian River Lagoon.”

The lagoon also has economic ramifications, generating more than $7.6 billion per year. As the population increases, so do factors that adversely affect its health, including urbanization, freshwater releases, contamination, water quality, loss of habitat and a decline of fisheries.

Proceeds from the evening support the Graduate Research Fellow program and the annual Indian River Lagoon Symposium, which generates awareness and funding for research of critical issues facing this essential waterway. The multidisciplinary symposium annually draws more than 600 scientists, practitioners and agencies to discuss issues specific to the lagoon.

Gov. Ron DeSantis joined an impressive group of past honorees as the 2020 Leadership and Achievement Award recipient. Past recipients include the late environmentalists Nathaniel Reed and Alto “Bud” Adams Jr.; Vero’s first lady, Alma Lee Loy; Florida Oceanographic Society executive director, Mark Perry; Mary Rice, Ph.D., who first cataloged all lagoon species; Diane Barile, who advocated to get the lagoon established as an estuary of national significance; the Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute Principal Investigators; and former Senate Pres. Joe Negron, for passing legislation to protect the lagoon.

Jason Andreotta, district director of the Southeast District of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, accepted the award on behalf of DeSantis.

“Just 48 hours after being sworn into office, Gov. DeSantis signed executive order 1912, which set forth ambitious environmental goals,” he said. “Top among them is the historic $2.5 billion in Everglades Restoration funding and in funding for water resources protection, including the Indian River Lagoon.”

Andreotta noted that as a champion of the protection of natural resources and water quality in Florida, one of the governor’s recent accomplishments was the state’s acquisition of 20,000 acres of critical habitat in the Everglades.

“Ladies and gentlemen, the list goes on and on. I feel like every time I look around the governor is making another major announcement about the environment in our own backyard. I’m very, very proud to work for Gov. Ron DeSantis and it’s an honor to be here tonight to accept this award,” said Andreotta.

The 2020 Indian River Lagoon Symposium: Reassessing IRL Biodiversity will be hosted at FAU Harbor Branch in Fort Pierce, Feb. 13 and 14. For more information, visit


Photos by: Denise Ritchie
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