Indian River Lagoon Observatory

Indian River Lagoon Observations

January 17, 2017: Martin County Youth Leadership Environmental Day

M. Dennis Hanisak, Research Professor & IRLO Director
FAU Harbor Branch

Today I had a chance to share how we use our Indian River Lagoon Observatory Network of Environmental Sensors (IRLON) with 40 high school students at the Martin County Youth Leadership Environmental Day at the DuPuis Nature Center. The nature center, once the home of John G. and Susan H. DuPuis, Jr., is located near Lake Okeechobee at the DuPuis Management Area (DMA), a 21,875-acre protected area in northwestern Palm Beach County and southwestern Martin County.

DuPuis contains a vast landscape of pine flatwoods, wet prairies, marshes, and cypress domes. The area also has a rich history. Archeological sites of native Americans date to 500 B.C. More recently the Seminoles used the DuPuis region as a refuge during the Second Seminole War of 1835-1842. Later the property was a ranch for cattle, sheep and goats. The DMA was purchased by the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) in 1986 through the Save Our Rivers program. FAU’s Florida Center for Environmental Studies (CES), in cooperation with SFWMD, has developed a field-based, interactive Education Program at the Nature Center that targets secondary students, teachers, adults, families, and the local community.

Dupuis Management Area Map
This Google Earth image shows Dupuis’ strategic location: a rich oasis of pine flatwoods, wet prairies, marshes, and cypress domes just west of Lake Okeechobee and east of the intense human footprint along the coast. The property also borders the C-44 or St. Lucie Canal that connects the lake with the St. Lucie Estuary and ultimately the Indian River Lagoon and the Atlantic Ocean.

Earlier in the day the students had learned about water quality, the regional water flow that impacts the Indian River Lagoon, and efforts to reduce impacts, including the nearby Caulkins Water Farm project from DuPuis educator Kim Elliott. The students also viewed Lake Okeechobee, water control structures, and the St. Lucie Canal (C-44) and took samples for phosphate analysis, one of the nutrients that has caused concerned because of its high levels in our freshwater systems and estuaries.

My job was then to discuss with the students how the freshwater they saw in the morning can move into and impact the St. Lucie Estuary and Indian River Lagoon. I told them about IRLON and we went online to look at our current and archived data. They enjoyed pointing their brief sampling effort into a bigger picture. They had many questions and we had a very nice time together.

I don’t know how many of these students might go on to careers that one way or another involve Florida’s water resources … maybe some will. But I do know that anyone who grows up living in Florida needs to understand the importance of water – fresh and salt – to our quality of life and our economy and how what we do on land impacts the quality of our resources. I think hands-on activities like what these students did today at Dupuis will help make them life-long stewards of water resources and the environment. Kudos to Kim Elliot and the rest of the CES staff for their excellent work with Florida’s next generation!