Research on IRLT Properties
The Indian River Lagoon has been plagued by an onslaught of water quality issues that has resulted in the devastating loss of approximately 70% of all seagrass over the last decade. This has triggered a cascade of ecological setbacks, from a decline in fish populations to the demise of hundreds of beloved manatees.
Fortunately, the Indian River Land Trust has discovered its Bee Gum Point Preserve is a "natural nursery" for one particular species of seagrass, Ruppia maritima, commonly known as Widgeon grass. Research professor Dr. Dennis Hanisak and his team from the Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute at Florida Atlantic University is studying the seagrass population at the Preserve. They've begun harvesting plant material and seeds which are being grown in large flow-through tanks at their land-based nursery on the university campus. Dr. Hanisak intends to use the Widgeon grass sourced from Bee Gum Point Preserve to aid in future Lagoon restoration efforts. We see this project as a wonderful example of how IRLT is preserving and protecting ecologically significant property with the potential to restore our Lagoon.
At the same time, Dr. Jon Moore of Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute is studying the population of diamondback terrapins (Malaclemys terrapin) at Bee Gum Point Preserve. These estuarine turtles appear to be utilizing the preserve as a significant nesting site in the southern Lagoon. Graduate students are collecting data to learn about the habits of this population in comparison to other populations of these increasingly rare reptiles along the East and Gulf coasts of the United States.
Dr. Jon Shenker of Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute and Dr. Aaron Adams of Bonefish and Tarpon Trust are leading a research team experimenting with mosquito impoundment management techniques to benefit important fish populations in the Lagoon. Students are capturing and tagging juvenile tarpon (Megalops atlanticus) and snook (Centropomus undecimalis) within several mosquito impoundments at IRLT preserves and tracking their movements through water exchange culverts which are temporarily opened during warmer months when they are typically closed. Based on a previous study, it appears that the juvenile fish prefer to exit the nursery grounds and join the Lagoon fish populations during the summer. If this management technique can be applied across multiple impoundments, the result could be a significant boost to iconic sportfish populations.