Engineering Answers to the Indian River Lagoon’s Woes

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By Shelley Preston

The Indian River Lagoon (IRL), one of the world’s most diverse estuaries, has always offered a spectacular backdrop to the student experience at Florida Tech for both recreation and marine studies. But years of
poorly managed human activities have brought the IRL close to collapse. With a massive fish kill earlier this year and frequent algal blooms, scientists say the lagoon is in peril.

Thanks to a lobbying effort to bring attention to the wounded waters, government agencies promise over $4 million to Florida Tech researchers to pinpoint sources of the lagoon’s problems and hopefully find real solutions to the once thriving estuary.

One major research effort is examining a big problem below the lagoon’s surface: muck. Throughout the IRL, thick pockets of black, viscous goo made from decaying organic matter such as suburban yard waste not only prevents sea grass from growing where it settles, but saturates the lagoon with nitrogen and phosphorous that feed algae.

Dredging the muck out of the lagoon is one option. Florida Tech scientists are currently monitoring a dredging operation in Turkey Creek and studying its impact on native plants and animals. On the engineering side, Florida Tech researchers are investigating ideas such as a weir that would flush out the lagoon with periodic infusions of fresh seawater, looking at ways to prevent contaminated storm water
from reaching the lagoon in the first place and aeration systems for when oxygen dips to fish-kill levels.

One of those engineers, Tom Waite, university research professor says, “Florida Tech is in an excellent position to make a difference. Not only are we looking at the lagoon’s problems as scientists, but we have the resources to come up with engineering solutions.”

And, as a service to the community, more than 20 Florida Tech faculty members formed the Indian River Lagoon Research Institute. The group offers the public expertise on developing sustainable solutions for the revitalization and care of the Indian River Lagoon. Find them here: http://research.fit.edu/irlri and on
Twitter: @IRLRI_FIT

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About Author

Christena Callahan is editor of Florida Tech Today magazine.

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