On Campus: Restoring Research

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New institute works to improve and sustain the health of the Indian River Lagoon

For more than 30 years, Florida Tech researchers have studied the Indian River Lagoon, but the estuary’s declining health in recent years has elicited statewide alarm.

In response, the university has established the Indian River Lagoon Research Institute (IRLRI) as a collaboration of the university’s scientists, engineers, coastal resource managers and educators working independently and with community organizations toward sustainable solutions.

Initial plans call for developing science-based lagoon-scaping projects to return the lagoon to a clean, prosperous and healthy ecosystem. Research activities will focus on developing solutions for existing environmental issues including the chemical and biological impacts of muck sediments and muck removal; internal and external nutrient-loading from muck sediment, tributaries, groundwater, septic tanks and fertilizer; the decline of essential habitats for fish and shellfish populations; and the restoration of those species. Scientists will also conduct numerical forecasting of circulation and water quality and validate the forecasts for use as a management tool.

[quote]“The IRL is an important natural resource and economic engine for the area. The lagoon can be brought back, but it will not happen without the community making this a priority.” [/quote]

—Robert Weaver, IRLRI director

—Karen Rhine

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About the Indian River Lagoon Research Institute
5 Questions with Robert Weaver, IRLRI Director

  1. What is most important about this research facility?
    The focus of the Indian River Lagoon Research Institute (IRLRI) is on development and implementation of sustainable solutions to the issues facing the lagoon based on input from researchers across disciplines. We have researchers who have been studying the IRL for many years; their guidance in developing engineering solutions provides a unique resource from any other working group. This enables us to get projects started in an efficient and timely manner.
  2. What are your thoughts about the facility?
    I think this new collaborative has the opportunity to provide real solutions to the water quality in the lagoon and help guide the policy makers to implement the solutions in a timely manner. Comprised of researchers who each have 3–25+ years’ experience working in the Indian River Lagoon, the IRLRI is poised to act based on the wealth of research that has been conducted in the past. In the short lifespan of the IRLRI, we are already working on multidisciplinary projects bringing together engineering, marine science, marine chemistry, biology and education/outreach.
  3. Where does the funding for the facility come from?
    The IRLRI fosters collaboration between researchers with the common goal of solving the water quality problems in the lagoon. Each member of the institute, or collaborative of members, solicits competitive grant/foundation/industry funding from private and public sources. Already, proposals have been submitted from members that total over $500K under the umbrella of the IRLRI, with over $1M in proposals being drafted for submittal over the coming months. The IRLRI will seek additional funding from the state to provide research and development as well as monitoring and assessment to the projects supported.
  4. How long has this facility been in the works?
    The IRLRI grew quickly over the past couple of months. The 20+ faculty members who are participating have been working on lagoon-focused issues for much longer, some for more than 25 years. Concern and realization that action must be taken helped facilitate the rapid development of the collaborative, and outreach projects are already underway.
  5. Is there anything else you would like to add?
    As someone who lives and works around the IRL, I have a personal responsibility, as we all do, to ensure that that this resource is vibrant for years to come. The IRL is an important natural resource and economic engine for the area. The lagoon can be brought back, but it will not happen without the community making this a priority. The IRL should be the pride of our community; and it will be.
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