Indian River Lagoon

Last updated
Indian River Lagoon
Aerial view of Indian River Lagoon
Map of lagoon and surrounding area
Country United States
State Florida
Physical characteristics
 - elevation Sea level
Length156 mi (251 km)
Basin size2,187.5 sq mi (5,666 km2)

Coordinates: 28°03′19″N80°34′34″W / 28.05528°N 80.57611°W / 28.05528; -80.57611

Geographic coordinate system Coordinate system

A geographic coordinate system is a coordinate system that enables every location on Earth to be specified by a set of numbers, letters or symbols. The coordinates are often chosen such that one of the numbers represents a vertical position and two or three of the numbers represent a horizontal position; alternatively, a geographic position may be expressed in a combined three-dimensional Cartesian vector. A common choice of coordinates is latitude, longitude and elevation. To specify a location on a plane requires a map projection.


The Indian River Lagoon is a grouping of three lagoons: the Mosquito Lagoon, the Banana River, and the Indian River, on the Atlantic Coast of Florida; one of the most biodiverse estuaries in the Northern Hemisphere and is home to more than 4,300 species of plants and animals. [1]

Lagoon A shallow body of water separated from a larger body of water by barrier islands or reefs

A lagoon is a shallow body of water separated from a larger body of water by barrier islands or reefs. Lagoons are commonly divided into coastal lagoons and atoll lagoons. They have also been identified as occurring on mixed-sand and gravel coastlines. There is an overlap between bodies of water classified as coastal lagoons and bodies of water classified as estuaries. Lagoons are common coastal features around many parts of the world.

Mosquito Lagoon

Mosquito Lagoon is a body of water located on the east coast of Florida in Brevard and Volusia counties. It is part of the Indian River Lagoon system and the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway. It extends from the Ponce de Leon Inlet to a point north of Cape Canaveral, and connects to the Indian River via the Haulover Canal. The Mosquito Lagoon Aquatic Preserve includes 4,740 acres (1,920 ha) in the northern end of the lagoon. The preserve originally extended to the southern end of the lagoon, but close to two-thirds of the preserve in the central and southern lagoon were transfered to the Federal government, and is now part of the Canaveral National Seashore. The cities of New Smyrna Beach and Edgewater, the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge and the Kennedy Space Center adjoin the lagoon.

Banana River

The Banana River is a 31-mile-long (50 km) lagoon that lies between Cape Canaveral and Merritt Island in Brevard County, Florida in the United States. It is part of the Indian River Lagoon system, and connects at its south end to the Indian River; it is the only part of the lagoon system not in the Intracoastal Waterway. It also has an outlet to the Atlantic Ocean via a lock into Port Canaveral. The lagoon includes salt marshes, mangrove swamps, seagrass beds, drift algae, oyster bars, tidal flats, and spoil islands, providing habitats for many marine species.These are brackish waters mixed of salt and fresh water; waist deep with a soft bottom sand/grass. Commercial and recreational activities in the lagoon generate more than US$ 800 million annually for the local economy.

The Lagoon contains five state parks, four federal wildlife refuges and a national seashore. [2]

The Lagoon varies in width from .5 to 5 miles (0.80 to 8.05 km) and averages 4 feet (1.2 m) in depth. [3]


During glacial periods, the ocean receded. The area that is now the lagoon was grassland, 30 miles (48 km) from the beach. When the glacier melted, the sea rose. The lagoon remained as captured water. [4]

Wisconsin glaciation

The Wisconsin Glacial Episode, also called the Wisconsinan glaciation, was the most recent glacial period of the North American ice sheet complex. This advance included the Cordilleran Ice Sheet, which nucleated in the northern North American Cordillera; the Innuitian ice sheet, which extended across the Canadian Arctic Archipelago; the Greenland ice sheet; and the massive Laurentide ice sheet, which covered the high latitudes of central and eastern North America. This advance was synchronous with global glaciation during the last glacial period, including the North American alpine glacier advance, known as the Pinedale glaciation. The Wisconsin glaciation extended from approximately 75,000 to 11,000 years ago, between the Sangamon interglacial and the current interglacial, the Holocene. The maximum ice extent occurred approximately 25,000–21,000 years ago during the last glacial maximum, also known as the Late Wisconsin in North America.

The indigenous people who lived along the lagoon thrived on its fish and shellfish. This was determined by analyzing the middens they left behind, piled with refuse from clams, oysters, and mussels. [4]

The Indian River Lagoon was originally known on early Spanish maps as the Rio de Ais, after the Ais Indian tribe, who lived along the east coast of Florida. An expedition in 1605 by Alvero Mexia resulted in the mapping of most of the lagoon. Original place names on the map included Los Mosquitos (the Mosquito Lagoon and the Halifax River), Haulover (current Haulover Canal area), Ulumay Lagoon (Banana River) Rio d' Ais (North Indian River), and Pentoya Lagoon (Indian River Melbourne to Ft. Pierce) [5]

Early European settlers drained the swamps to raise pineapples and citrus. They dug canals discharging fresh water into the lagoon, five times the historical volume. [4]

Prior to the arrival of the railroad, the river was an essential transportation link. [6]

In 1896 and 1902, there were fish kills in the lagoon from gas from the muck below. [7]

The advent of the automobile, starting in the 1930s, resulted in causeways which diverted the sluggish flow of the waterway. Huge population influx resulted in sewage, and stormwater runoff from roadways, polluting the lagoon. [4]

From 1989 to 2013, the population along the lagoon increased 50% to 1.6 million people. [8]


The full length of the Indian River Lagoon is 156 miles (251 km), extending from Ponce de León Inlet in Volusia County, Florida, to Jupiter Inlet in Palm Beach County, Florida, [9] [10] and includes Cape Canaveral. The Lagoon covers one-third of Florida's East Coast. [4] Brevard County incorporates 71% of the lagoon's surface. [7]

Lake Okeechobee is connected to the lagoon by the Okeechobee Waterway and the St. Lucie River meeting in Sewall's Point.

From north to south, the Indian River Lagoon system includes the following:

For water quality measurement, the non-profit Marine Resources Council has divided the lagoon into 4 major divisions, with a total of ten subdivisions [11] :

Natural history

The Indian River Lagoon is North America's most diverse estuary, with more than 2100 species of plants and 2200 animals. The diversity is the result of being located near a climate boundary, 5 miles (8.0 km) from the Gulf Stream. Migratory ocean fish swimming nearby, were swept into the lagoon. [4]


The lagoon contains 35 species listed as threatened or endangered — more than any other estuary in North America. [3] [12] The lagoon has about 2,500 types of animals in it.[ clarification needed ] It serves as a spawning and nursery ground for different species of oceanic and lagoon fish and shellfish. The lagoon also has one of the most diverse bird populations anywhere in America.

Nearly 1/3 of the nation's manatee population lives here or migrates through the Lagoon seasonally.

Nine-banded armadillos comprise one of the 34 mammals in the area. It is a 1920s immigrant from the Southwestern United States. In 2016 a Right whale with her calf entered the lagoon by mistake and safely exited to the ocean. [13]

Between 200 and 800 Bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) also live in the Indian River Lagoon. [14] [15]

Red Drum, Spotted seatrout, Common snook, and the Tarpon are the main gamefish in the Titusville area of the lagoon system. [16]

Avians include the American kestrel, Reddish egret and spoonbills. [13]

Butterflies include the Polydamas swallowtail. [13]

Indian River Lagoon is abundant with bioluminescent dinoflagellates in the summer and ctenophore in the winter. [17]


Seagrass is a critical component to the overall health of the lagoon. [18] By 1990, it had surpassed levels reached in 1943. The lagoon also contains night-blooming cereus. [13]

River modifications

In 1916, the St. Lucie Canal (C-44) diverts excess nutrient-rich water from Lake Okeechobee into the South Lagoon. While this helps prevent life-threatening flooding in the Okeechobee area, it creates toxic blooms after entering the Lagoon, a threat to flora, fauna, and humans. This situation is proving difficult to address in the 21st century. [4]

From 1913 to 2013, activity by humans has increased the watershed for the lagoon from 572,000 acres (231,000 ha) to 1,400,000 acres (570,000 ha) increasing runoff of freshwater and nutrients from farms. Both have been detrimental to lagoon health. [8] The wetlands are needed to cleanse the lagoon. About 40,000 acres (16,000 ha) of land were lost to mosquito control and have been restored, but by 2013, recovery was incomplete. [8]

Mangroves are important to marine life. Between the 1940s and 2013, 85% of them had been removed for housing development.

In 1990, the Florida Legislature passed the Indian River Lagoon Act, requiring most sewer plants to stop discharging into the lagoon by 1996. Some sports fish rebounded in population in the 1990s when gill nets were banned and pollution in the lagoon was reduced. In 1995 the seagrass covered over 100,000 acres (40,000 ha). [18] [19]

The 1993–1996 data base used to track the movement of water through the St. Lucie Estuary and into Indian River Lagoon is described in Smith (2007). This includes daily mean discharge rates for the 16 gauged canals emptying into the St. Lucie Estuary and Indian River Lagoon, predicted shelf tides, and wind speeds and directions recorded along the west side of the lagoon at about 27°32'N (corresponding to Segment 11 of the model). [20]

In 2007, concerns were raised about the future of the lagoon system, especially in the southern half where frequent freshwater discharges seriously threatened water quality, decreasing the salinity needed by many fish species, and have contributed to large algae blooms promoted by water saturated with plant fertilizers.[ citation needed ] In the mid 1990s, the lagoon has been the subject of research on light penetration for photosynthesis in submerged aquatic vegetation. [18]

In 2010, 3,300,000 pounds (1,500,000 kg) of nitrogen and 475,000 pounds (215,000 kg) of phosphorus entered the lagoon. [21]

In 2011, a superbloom of phytoplankton resulted in the loss of 32,000 acres (13,000 ha) of lagoon seagrass. In 2012, a brown tide bloom fouled the northern lagoon. The county has approval for funds to investigate these unusual blooms to see if they can be prevented. [22]

Catches of blue crabs dropped unevenly from 4,265,063 pounds (1,934,600 kg) in 1987 to 389,795 pounds (176,808 kg) in 2012, but with high catches in 1998, 1991, alternating with low catch years. These crabs require 2% salt content in the water to survive. A drought increases the salt content and heavy rainfall decreases it. Both of these conditions have recurred over the past decades and are believed to have had an adverse effect on the crab population. [23]

In 2013, algae blooms and loss of sea grass destroyed all gains. [8] In 2013, four major problems with lagoon water quality were identified. 1) Excess nitrogen and phosphorus from runoff from the application of fertilizer; 2) an estimated 8 to 11% septic tank failures of tens of thousands of septic tanks in the county. 3) Muck from construction, farming, erosion and dead plants find their way to the bottom of the lagoon, preventing growth and consuming vital oxygen essential to marine flora and fauna; 4) Invasive species, including the Asian green mussel, South American charru mussel, and the Australian spotted jellyfish, eat clams and fish larvae. [24]

In 2016, there were an estimated 300,000 septic tanks in the five-county area bordering the Lagoon. [25] At one time, sewer plants were worse polluters. In 1986, there were 46 sewer plants along the 156 miles (251 km) lagoon. They discharged about 55,000,000 US gallons (210,000,000 l; 46,000,000 imp gal) daily into the estuary. The state ended most sewer plant pollution by 1995. [26]

In 2018, lagoon health is better near ocean inlets. Pollution is worse in areas near no inlets, such as the Mosquito Lagoon, North IRL, and the Banana River. [4]


According to the Florida Oceanographic Society, nearly 1 million people live and work in the Indian River Lagoon region. The Lagoon accounts for $300 million in fisheries revenues, includes a $2.1 billion citrus industry, and generates more than $300 million in boat and marine sales annually. [2]

In 2007, visitors spent an estimated 3.2 million person-days in recreation on the lagoon. [27]

In 2008, Hazen and Sawyer, P.C. submitted a report titled "Indian River Lagoon Economic Assessment and Analysis Update" to the Indian River Lagoon National Estuary Program, St. Johns River Water Management District. The report described the estimated 2007 recreational uses and economic value of the Indian River Lagoon to residents and visitors of the five counties that comprise the Lagoon system. The sum of recreational expenditures and recreational use value was estimated at $2.1 billion. [28]

See also


  1. Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution (2018). "Indian River Lagoon - Facts and Figures" (PDF). Fort Pierce, Florida: Floirida Atlantic University. p. 1. Retrieved 29 September 2018.
  2. 1 2 "Florida Oceanographic Society - Indian River Lagoon Fact Sheet" (PDF).
  3. 1 2 "Indian River Lagoon; An Introduction to a National Treasure" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2013-03-19. Retrieved 2013-04-17.
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 "A History of the Lagoon". Melbourne, Florida: Marine Resources Council. 2018. p. 1.
  5. Eriksen, John M. Brevard County, Florida : A Short History to 1955. Chapter One
  6. Johnston, Larry (May 15, 2016). "What's the history behind a waterway's name?". Florida Today. Melbourne, Florida. pp. 17A. Retrieved May 15, 2016.
  7. 1 2 Byron, John (December 29, 2018). "Seven things you might not know about the lagoon". Florida Today. Melbourne, Florida. pp. 10A. Retrieved December 29, 2018.
  8. 1 2 3 4 Waymer, Jim (October 13, 2013). "Leaders to discuss lagoon cures during special meeting.Talking solutions". Florida Today. Melbourne, Florida: Gannett. pp. 6A. Retrieved October 19, 2013.
  9. "Website of the St. Johns River Water Management District". Retrieved 1 February 2017.
  10. "". Retrieved 1 February 2017.
  11. "IRL Health Update: 2018 Report - Marine Resources Council". 23 July 2018. Retrieved 7 August 2018.
  12. "You are being redirected". Retrieved 1 February 2017.
  13. 1 2 3 4 "January 2017". 2017 Calendar. 2017.

  14. Smithsonian Marine Station at Fort Pierce - Tursiops truncatus - Habitat and Distribution
    Field Study - Indian River Lagoon Dolphins - Dolphin 56 Sighting Ssummary Archived 2010-11-30 at the Wayback Machine
  15. Soper, Shawn J. (May 6, 2011). "Dolphin 56 Back Dazzling Boaters In Ocean City". The Dispatch (Ocean City, Maryland). Retrieved 6 June 2012.
  16. "Fishing the Indian River Lagoon from Titusville Florida". Retrieved 1 February 2017.
  17. KENNEDY DUCKETT, MARYELLEN (2015-02-10). "Florida by Water: Experience Bioluminescence" . Retrieved 31 July 2018.
  18. 1 2 3 Hanisak, M. Dennis (1997). "Continuous Monitoring of Underwater Light in Indian River Lagoon: Comparison of Cosine and Spherical Sensors". In: EJ Maney, Jr and CH Ellis, Jr (Eds.) the Diving for Science…1997, Proceedings of the American Academy of Underwater Sciences, Seventeenth Annual Scientific Diving Symposium. Retrieved 2009-04-02.
  19. Dawes, Clinton J.; M. Dennis Hanisak; Judson W. Kenworthy (1995). "Seagrass biodiversity in the Indian River Lagoon". Bulletin of Marine Science. 57 (1): 59–66. Retrieved 2009-04-02.
  20. Ned P. Smith (2016). "Transport pathways through southern Indian River Lagoon". Florida Scientist. 79 (1): 39–50. ISSN   0098-4590. JSTOR   44113179.
  21. "Editorial:Dying dolphins". Melbourne, Florida: Florida Today. 22 May 2010. pp. 13A.
  22. Waymer, Jim (April 25, 2013). "Panel approves $1.2 million in lagoon projects". Florida Today. Melbourne, Florida. pp. 2B.
  23. Waymer, Jim (September 8, 2013). "Lagoon crab catches dwindle". Florida Today. Melbourne, Florida. pp. 1A, 3A. Retrieved September 13, 2013.
  24. Waymer, Jim (September 29, 2013). "Do something!". Florida Today. Melbourne, Florida. pp. 4A.
  25. How septic tanks may imperil this Florida ecosystem' on YouTube
  26. Berman, Dave (March 20, 2016). "Some issues remain half century later". Florida Today. Melbourne, Florida. p. 11.
  27. "Visitors spend big on the lagoon". Indian River Lagoon Update. XVI (3): 1. Summer 2008.
  28. Section 7. "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2013-01-07. Retrieved 2013-04-17.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)

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