Indian River Lagoon Health Update

Indian River Lagoon Health Update

Osprey Nesting Platform

The Marine Resources Council (MRC) teams with the Marine Discovery Center to present the first ever IRL Health Update report, which examines 20 years of Indian River Lagoon water quality data.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018
Session 1 at 2:00 p.m.  |  Session 2 at 6:00 p.m.
Location: Marine Discovery Center, 520 Barracuda Blvd, NSB, 32169

  Admission is FREE. The event is open to the public. Attendees must register online.

Dr. Leesa Souto, Executive Director of the Marine Resources Council, will present on the key indicators and targets of lagoon health and how the water conditions have negatively changed over time. Each attendee will be given a copy of the report to use for education and advocacy for the well-being of the lagoon. Together we can bring the IRL back to health!

General IRL Health Update Info:
Local non-profit organization, the Marine Resources Council of East Florida (MRC) in collaboration with the U.S. EPA’s National Estuary Program & Applied Ecology Inc. to produce the first-ever comprehensive health analysis of the entire Indian River Lagoon (IRL) system.

It is common knowledge that the health of the lagoon is in peril. For the first time, we now have a baseline of health, backed by 20 years of available science provided by the governing water management districts, to guide future restoration efforts and policy moving forward to improve the water quality of the failing IRL system. This report is the first step in a comprehensive IRL restoration effort. How do you manage and restore a 156-mile lagoon that spans 42 cities and 5 counties, if you don’t have all the data in one location and easily accessible? Finally, the public can easily see the available information on the state of the lagoon portrayed in info-graphics and charts. The report divides the lagoon into 10 distinct regions from New Smyrna to Jupiter. Each lagoon region is graded based on 5 indicators of health on a scale from 0 to 100, 100 being the best score and 0 the worst. The development of this report has cultivated a communications coalition of lagoon community partners, working together to build consensus on the restoration of the estuary.

We hope you will join us at this educational event to see the results of the first IRL Health Update and get your very own copy of the report.  The more community involvement we have for the well-being of the lagoon, the louder our voice is. Together we can bring the lagoon back to health!

September MDC Lecture: Lionfish

September MDC Lecture: Lionfish

Lionfish Are The Topic At MDC’s September Lecture



The lecture is open to the public at no charge and no reservations are required.

For more information about the lecture, contact the Marine Discovery Center at 386-428-4828.

When: Thursday, September 20 at 6:00 p.m.; additional lionfish activities from 5-6 p.m.
Where: Marine Discovery Center, 520 Barracuda Blvd, NSB, 32169
Cost: FREE

Lionfish are an invasive species from Indo-Pacific waters that are now found on the Eastern Seaboard. This fish will be the focus of the Marine Discovery Center’s September public lecture.

Hanna Tillotson, head of lionfish control for Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s (FWC) Division of Marine Fisheries Management will be the guest speaker.

The presentation is set for Thursday, Sept. 20 starting at 6 p.m., with special lionfish events scheduled prior to the lecture from 5-6 p.m.

Tillotson will discuss the species, the lionfish invasion to Florida and its effects on native habitats, statewide control and removal programs, and ways for the public to get involved. She will also display fish harvesting gear, collection techniques, safe handling of the fish’s venomous spines, and will demonstrate how to fillet this fish.

In addition to the lecture at 6 p.m., the public is invited to participate in pre-lecture activities on the pavilion area outside the back of the building shared by the Marine Discovery Center and The Artists’ Workshop.

Keith Sterner, owner of Sea Dogs Dive Center in New Smyrna Beach, will be present to discuss how local offshore dives help track and eradicate lionfish, which eat critical populations of native juvenile fish.

Sea Dogs will obtain and donate lionfish for the event, which will be served in a sample ceviche prepared by local chef Ryan McClean of the French Quarter Grille restaurant in New Smyrna Beach. Lionfish is a mild white fish that currently is in high demand by top restaurants.

In addition, artists from The Artists’ Workshop will display artwork depicting lionfish and jewelry made from lionfish spines at the event. The public will be able to view the artwork prior to the lecture.

MDC’s September lecture is open to the public at no charge and no reservations are required. Early arrival is recommended, as seating is limited.

For more information about the lecture, contact the Marine Discovery Center at 386-428-4828


Come Kayak at MDC!

Come Kayak at MDC!

Roger Horse Conch

Get to know the Indian River Lagoon as you paddle on our kayak tours offered by the Marine Discovery Center. You will learn about the estuary and its many inhabitants while paddling with experienced certified naturalists.

Kayakers of all ages and ability levels may choose from different tours in two locations in our programs. Guests may either bring their own kayaks or use MDC’s boats and equipment. MDC will supply everything you need and the trained guidance to help make this a memorable experience.

Marine Discovery Center

Paddle from MDC through a restored salt marsh and along the lagoon’s backwaters learning about mangrove trees, oyster reefs, wading birds and marine animals from your guide. You may paddle to the bird rookery islands to see where our wading birds build their nests each year or hug the mangroves while paddling in the undeveloped backwaters of Smyrna Creek, watching for spectacular avian species loitering in the trees.

Browns Bay

Leave from Indian River Lagoon Preserve Park on Saxon Avenue on a winding paddling trail with your guide through the mangrove forest. You will learn about these tropical trees, as well as the oyster reefs, sand bars, wading birds and marine mammals you may see along the way. This trail was an Eagle Scout project designed for all types of paddling vessels, giving nature lovers a good look at the undeveloped backwaters adjacent to the fishing paradise of Callalisa Creek.

Full Moon Kayak Tours

When the monthly calendar indicates the presence of a full moon, MDC offers its full moon kayak tours. These PM paddles typically give kayakers a chance to watch the colors of stunning sunsets on the waters of the Indian River Lagoon, followed by the thrill of the moon rising over the mangrove trees, reflecting a brilliant path in the water. This is a unique way to experience the estuary as your guide leads you in the twilight.

Read what our guests are saying about their kayak experience…

Gopher Tortoise Halts MDC Construction, Prompts Relocation

Gopher Tortoise Halts MDC Construction, Prompts Relocation

Osprey Nesting Platform

by Lisa D. Mickey

The Marine Discovery Center got a little surprise from a burrowing reptile after it had started construction this spring.

Executive director Chad Truxall was walking the center’s campus in early April and noticed a hole in the base of what will be the seating area of the new amphitheater, currently under construction.

“We knew we had a gopher tortoise onsite a while ago, but we had not seen it and we thought it was gone,” said Truxall. “As soon as we saw that burrow, we knew we had to do something about it.”

Truxall said that a survey on the property for endangered and threatened species was standard procedure before construction could begin. Unfortunately, an assumption was made that the survey had already taken place.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) informed MDC that it needed to determine if there was one tortoise or more than 10 on the property. Procedural requirements vary based on the number of animals present.

Truxall reached out to Joe Young, owner of Biological Consulting Services who came to the center’s campus in early April and performed a gopher tortoise survey one week after construction had begun at the site.

Young arrived with a measuring instrument, which he snaked into the burrow to determine the size of the hole and the location of the tortoise. Once he determined there was one tortoise in the burrow, all construction within 15 feet of the area was halted until the animal could be removed.

Following the survey, MDC was given two options:

The first option would be to install a silt fence around the entire construction project and the tortoise could be removed and placed outside the silt fencing. The fencing would have to be dug into the ground for several feet around the site. The price was substantial for the process.

“Gopher tortoises aren’t normally found around here in a disturbed site,” said Truxall, of the former campus site of New Smyrna Beach High School where MDC is now located. “And even when those steps are taken, there’s no guarantee the tortoise would not be impacted in some kind of way. They can dig and could get back into the construction area.”

The second option would be to extract the tortoise in its burrow and move the animal offsite to a different location within 100 miles. The site would be a designated area approved by the state for a gopher tortoise.

“Once you decide on an option, you apply for a permit and let the state know your plans,” said Truxall. “Then they get back to you with specifics on the extraction of the tortoise.”

Extraction in action

On the day of the tortoise extraction, Truxall watched nervously from a distance while the process took place. Young and Weaver Construction — which both donated their services to the nonprofit — executed a precise extraction using a backhoe.

The burrow was approximately 20 feet deep and during the course of the extraction, the tortoise made several U-turns in its shelter, Truxall noted.

“I watched it for about an hour and it was a little nerve-racking,” he admitted. “As the backhoe dug up more dirt, there was some collapse of the burrow, but those guys have been doing this for years and they knew what they were doing.”

The extraction rendered a large female tortoise, which was relocated to a state-approved area. MDC paid for the permitting from the state and the relocation of the tortoise.

A little elbow grease is needed

“This is far better than entombment, which they used to do,” Truxall said. “For a long time, construction companies could pay a fee – in what’s called a ‘take’ – and just fill in a burrow, not knowing whether it was active or not. They pretty much buried tortoises alive and maybe even crushed the tortoises with their bulldozers while only paying a fine.”

FWC banned the practice of entombment in 2007, ending a state policy that allowed construction companies to bulldoze burrows for a paid permit. The Humane Society took action in halting the statewide practice, which reportedly entombed anywhere from nearly 100,000 to 900,000 gopher tortoises in Florida from 1991-2007.

“Everyone has an affection for turtles and tortoises,” added Truxall. “Whether they’re in the ocean or on land people are drawn to them and go out of their way to help. When people realized what was going on with the entombment practices, they were really upset. I’m glad the laws were changed.”

In addition to being a creature commonly seen in residential Florida communities, Truxall noted that gopher tortoises are important because they are a keystone species. Their burrows provide refuge for many animals, ranging from mammals and reptiles, amphibians, insects and birds. More than 350 other species have been identified as commensally residing in gopher tortoise burrows.

Taking measurements

Certain endangered species, such as indigo snakes, the gopher frog and the beach mouse, all share gopher tortoise burrows. They will use the burrows throughout their life cycle, but they will also take refuge in the burrows during fires.

“One of those ecosystem-services the gopher tortoise burrow provides is the cycling of nutrients in a scrub habitat or in a dune system where you don’t have a lot of nutrients in the soil,” Truxall added. “The home they build provides habitat for so many other animals.”

Ready for relocation

While some humans may be inconvenienced that the presence of a threatened animal could hold up an entire construction project, Truxall said state laws are now in place for a reason to protect gopher tortoises.

“We have to be mindful that it’s not just about humans first,” Truxall said. “Of course, we are excited about our amphitheater construction project because we feel like it will help us create a bigger impact and awareness in the community.”


“But we are going to do whatever it takes to protect the environment that we are impacting and tell the stories about the other species that live here,” he added. “I once heard a statement that ‘Your greenest project is the one you don’t build.’ When it comes to gopher tortoises, we certainly have come a long way.”

Contact: [email protected]

MDC Launches Buy-A-Brick Campaign For New Facilities

MDC Launches Buy-A-Brick Campaign For New Facilities

Osprey Nesting Platform

by Lisa D. Mickey

The Marine Discovery Center has launched its Buy-A-Brick Campaign to invite the public to participate in the center’s growth.

The non-profit organization will break ground this year on a new amphitheater and is planning for an education center on the MDC campus once occupied by New Smyrna Beach High School. Each of the planned facilities will help continue MDC’s mission to protect and restore Florida’s coastal and Indian River Lagoon ecosystems through education, research and community stewardship.

The initial run of the brick campaign will run through May 1 July 15, and gives the community a chance to personalize bricks that will be used to form the main stage of the planned amphitheater.

Artist rendering of our amphitheater

MDC Executive Director Chad Truxall notes that it wasn’t that long ago when he was volunteering to help build a touch tank and outdoor exhibits for the center at one of MDC’s first locations — the city’s former water treatment plant.

“We were so proud of the money we raised and the transformation that occurred in the small outdoor place we had at that time,” said Truxall. “Now here we are 16 years later, and the Marine Discovery Center is embarking on another transformative project. The 2018 Buy-A-Brick Campaign is an opportunity for citizens to leave their mark at MDC as we begin to develop our Phase II and Phase III development plans.”

The center’s plans include more of its trademark hands-on, feet-wet programs for children and adults through the construction of an amphitheater, walking trails, establishment of a trailhead for the St. Johns River to Sea Loop, a new kayak launch and storage area, and a future education center, said Truxall.

Phase II will be completed in 2018, with Phase III expected to begin in 2019. Funding from the brick sales will be used to leverage additional support for these projects, Truxall added.

“Each unique brick will serve as a reminder of the great community support that exists to connect our children to nature, and as well as to protect and preserve the Indian River Lagoon,” said Truxall.

Bricks are currently on sale at MDC for $40 per brick, $75 for two bricks and $37.50 for each additional brick. Three lines of up to 20 characters and/or marine/nautical clip art may be used for each brick order. Deadline for ordering is May1st.

Brick order sheets for the campaign are available at the Marine Discovery Center or online.
For more information, contact the Marine Discovery Center at 386-428-4828.


MDC Expands Summer Camp Programs With New Additions

MDC Expands Summer Camp Programs With New Additions

by Lisa D. Mickey
News Release

The Marine Discovery Center will offer three new camp programs this summer, adding a camp for homeschooled students, as well as six sessions of new two-day camps.

Joining a summer schedule that includes 28 different camps for youngsters ages kindergarten to eighth grade, the new programs were added by popular request.

Three sessions of the new Salty Scientists two-day camp will be held for children in kindergarten through second grade May 31-June 1, July 2-3 and July 5-6. Campers will focus on sea creatures found on the Florida coast in this program.

Three sessions of the inaugural Water Warriors two-day camps will be held for campers in grades 3-5 from May 31-June 1, July 2-3 and July 5-6. This program is designed to expand campers’ knowledge of the world of water with island exploration, fishing and marine-related arts and crafts.

“We’re hoping to reach more families who may want their children to have an educational experience, while also enjoying time at the beach during family vacation,” said Michelle West, education coordinator at MDC.

Addressing the need to offer a special program for homeschooled students, the new Estuary Explorers will offer youngsters in grades kindergarten through sixth grade a chance to focus on the ecosystems of the Indian River Lagoon.

“This camp will give homeschooled students a chance to meet and interact with other kids who are also homeschooled, as well as to have a fun educational experience away from home,” added West.

Other popular camps will be held for Loggerheads (grades K-2), Leatherbacks (grades 3-5), Mangrove Maniacs (grades 3-6), Aquatic Adventures (ages 5-8) and Lagoonys (grades 5-8).

A new field trip will be offered to Mangrove Maniac campers this year. The WaterVentures Learning Lab will bring its mobile interactive learning lab to the center to provide a hands-on look at Florida’s diverse watersheds, water conservation and recycling initiatives.

A free resource for the state of Florida offered through the Crystal Springs Foundation, WaterVentures is a 53-foot tractor-trailer that has been transformed into a science-learning lab on wheels.

Older children in the summer camp program will enjoy two sessions of FWC Saltwater Fishing camps (grades 5-8), as well as the popular SCUBA camp (grades 5-8).

Due to popular demand, one additional half-day camp has been added for archery this summer. Youngsters in grades 3-6 will have three half-day camps in June and July to perfect their archery techniques.

“Most of the kids we get have always wanted to try archery, but just never had a place to do it,” said MDC Education Specialist Logan Rohrbach, who is a certified archery instructor.

MDC has offered archery for six years, with interest in the program growing each summer. The Florida Youth Conservation Centers Network supplies archery equipment to MDC throughout the year as a community partner in the center’s archery program.

MDC’s archery program has a permanent designated archery range on a corner of the center’s campus away from other programming.

“It’s a regulation range designed using U.S.A. Archery safety regulations, so not only do the kids in our camps have fun while learning this sport, but they are also safe while doing it,” noted Rohrbach.

Voted as the 2017 “Star of the South Best Local Children’s Attraction” by readers of the Daytona Beach News-Journal, MDC’s summer camp programs continue teaching children about coastal ecosystem through feet-wet learning.

Last year, nearly 400 youngsters from 15 states and three countries attended summer camp at MDC during 10 weeks of activities.

Camp registration at the Marine Discovery Center is currently underway, with available discounts for early registration and MDC members.

For details about the camps, contact the Marine Discovery Center’s education office at 386-428-3310.