Brevard students spend day Indian River Lagoon’ to save the estuary

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Days like these of environmental challenges are when the biology bug of infinite curiosity first bites and when tomorrow’s scientific pioneers are born..

It was that bite that the organizers of a “Day In The Life of the Indian River Lagoon” event Thursday, sponsored by Ocean Research and Conservation Association, or ORCA, were hoping to jump start.

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Hundreds of middle school students dipped, waded and netted in the lagoon Thursday with some of the environmental professionals who know best about the lagoon, why it’s been dying, what it once was, what it could be again.

“They’ll look at things like salinity. They’re going to measure nitrate, and phosphate. They’re going to look at sediment type,” Kelli Hunsucker, assistant professor of Ocean Engineering and Marine Sciences at Florida Institute of Technology, said shortly before a sampling event she helped run at Rykman Park in Melbourne Beach. 

FIT partnered with Central Middle School for their lagoon day sampling and learning, in concert with ORCA. It’s a lagoon-wide citizen science event in which students learn the basics of sampling water quality, what’ in the lagoon.

Students used hands-on field techniques to collect physical, chemical and biological samples in the lagoon. They gathered data on temperature, salinity, dissolved oxygen, pH, nitrates and phosphates, which will be made available to the public, and can be integrated into the students’ lesson plans. 

She likens the event to when she was a young girl learning about the ocean on the Jersey Shore, when her passion for science first began to take its roots.

Other lagoon spots where students sampled and learned included:

  • Kelly Park East with Heritage High School and Brevard County Stormwater.
  • Cocoa Beach High School, with Cocoa Beach High School and City of Cocoa Beach and Space Coast Surfrider Chapter.
  • St. Marks Academy, with St. Marks Academy and the nonprofit Marine Resource Council

It was the 2nd year for River Kidz at St Mark’s Academy, and this year they tried something new. 

Craig Wallace, chairman of Brevard Indian River Lagoon Coalition, called River Kidz, “an opportunity for kids to learn about our fragile lagoon environment and what they and their families can do to protect it,” he said in a statement before the event. “Teaming with ORCA the students will become citizen scientists learning how to monitor the health of the lagoon”

The lagoon event is a good anecdote of sorts for the past few years of virtual lockdown, Hunsucker, of FIT, said, for scientists and students alike.

“Post COVID, it feels so nice to have outreach events, not to only have our Florida Tech students out here, but the middle school students, the younger generation,” Hunsucker said.