PALM BAY, Fla. - The Indian River Lagoon's latest health checkup scored a mixed bag, mostly bad, according to a new report released Tuesday.
So to nurse the lagoon back to health, Florida needs to restore state funding for water quality monitoring that was cut in recent years, activists said, to drill down to what's gone wrong and how to fix it, News 6 partner Florida Today reported.
"We need to ask our state representatives to re-fund the monitoring of this part of the lagoon," Leesa Souto, executive director of the nonprofit Marine Resources Council, told the crowd of about 70.
Concerned citizens packed the Lagoon House to get a copy of a comprehensive health report card for the lagoon Tuesday from the nonprofit Marine Resources Council.
MRC examined various segments of the lagoon, looking at 20 years of water quality and habitat data, including measures of chlorophyll — a pigment in algae and other plants — nitrogen, phosphorus, seagrass and the typical cloudiness of the water.
"Think of your own health," Souto told the crowd Tuesday. "What would the vital signs be for the lagoon?"
The group divided the lagoon into 10 areas and created a standardized scoring system, ranging from 0 to 100.
A score of less than 50 is considered "extremely poor." According to the report, lagoon seagrass — the key barometer of the estuary's health — scored "extremely poor" in central Mosquito Lagoon, Bananan River, the northern and north-central lagoon, and in the central-southern lagoon. Only one segment — the southern Mosquito Lagoon — scored "fair." No segment sored "good" or "very good."
"Our seagrasses are really suffering throughout the lagoon," Souto said.
Phosphorus got worse in most of the lagoon since 2010, the report says, the same time the estuary begin to experience extreme harmful algae blooms. Phosphorus sources include car washes, sewage, fertilizers, sediments and canal discharges.
"It's bad because the concentrations are high," Souto said. "It's a resilient system, and things can rebound."
Souto said the goal of an annual lagoon health update that compares key health indicators with healthy targets to gauge how lagoon conditions are changing over time.
Nitrogen, which also can trigger excess algae, had been decreasing, since sewer plants stopped directly discharging into he lagoon in the 1990s.
"Nitrogen got a lot better for a while," Souto said. "Nitrogen is decreasing in the lagoon ... until 2016, where you seen nitrogen is up right across the board."
Nitrogen levels were worse especially in the Central lagoon, compared to the northern and southern regions of the estuary, the report shows.
Since 2005, the southern lagoon (the St. Lucie area) scored better for nitrogen levels than the rest of the lagoon.
The Marine Resources Council unveiled early findings in February of the three-year, $180,000 study of the lagoon's health — the estuary's first ecological report card of sorts. The study was funded almost entirely from local foundations and private donors, and included a $47,000 grant from the National Estuary Program.
"I think it's an excellent step in the right direction," John MacDonald, of Cocoa Beach, said of the report. MacDonald volunteers for MRC, sampling water in the Banana River.
"It's not doing very well anywhere right now," he said of the lagoon. "But there's a lot of good work going on , and we just need to inform the people how to communicate with their politicians."
Brad Voltz, of Indialantic, wouldn't eat the lagoon fish, he said.
"I think it was very informative and that there's a lot of work to do," Voltz said of Tuesday's meeting.
MRC wants to raise $300,000 to repeat and improve the report.
For more information, visit savetheirl.org/about-us/lagoon-house.
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