||About the Indian River Lagoon--
The 156-mile-long Indian River Lagoon (IRL) spans forty percent of Florida's eastern coast, straddling warm temperate and subtropical ecological regions.
The IRL system supports a higher diversity of organisms than any other estuary on the North American continent. It contains 2100 species of plants and 2200 species of animals, including 700 fish species and 310 species of birds. Fifty species of threatened or endangered plants and animals live in the Indian River Lagoon, among them the West Indian manatee.
Often referred to simply as the Indian River, this rich estuary is not really a river at all. Rather, it is a complex set of distinct water bodies bordered by the Florida mainland and a series of barrier islands. Salt water from the ocean and fresh water from streams, creeks, rivers, and runoff flow in wind-driven currents through the IRL.
The IRL is a pivotal economic resource. The lagoon contributes roughly $731,000,000 annually to the local economy, through shellfish culture, commercial and recreational fishing, and recreational boating sales. Commercial ships ply the lagoon's waters. Residential development along the beautiful shores of the lush lagoon is increasing year by year. The human population within the IRL's watershed, estimated at 50,000 in 1950, is expected to grow to 1,000,000 by the year 2010.
Predictably, human activities are taking a toll on the health of the IRL. In 1991, the Indian River Lagoon was designated by the EPA as an Estuary of National Significance. This designation, which placed the IRL within the National Estuary Program, provided a five year charter and federal funding to create a blueprint for coordinating management and conservation efforts for the IRL.
In 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt issued an executive order to set aside Pelican Island (in the central region of the Indian River Lagoon basin) as a "preserve and breeding ground for native birds." From this humble beginning, the United States National Wildlife Refuge System has grown to become the largest network of lands managed for wildlife. Today, the National Wildlife Refuge System encompasses almost 500 refuges and parks, totaling approximately 93 million acres of land.