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Fishing for Data

A Ladies of the Lagoon study is tracking the vital movement of fish from wetlands to open water, one tail at a time

A pilot program for studying fish migration tags and tracks fish from the impoundment at Bee Gum Point. “Bee Gum Point is a nursery to literally thousands of fish,” says David Heuberger, Indian River Land Trust director of land protection.

A pilot program for studying fish migration tags and tracks fish from the impoundment at Bee Gum Point. “Bee Gum Point is a nursery to literally thousands of fish,” says David Heuberger, Indian River Land Trust director of land protection.

Sitting over lunch one day, Vero Beach residents Kathleen Shulke and Stephanie Smith were mulling over a mutual concern: How could they raise awareness and funding in order to save and protect the Indian River Lagoon? Friends and longtime board members of the Indian River Land Trust, both were deeply troubled by the health of this bio-diverse stretch of water, home to more than 3,500 species of plants, animals and fish. Land development and human intervention had not only altered the lagoon’s ecosystem but also endangered its wildlife. The fish population was dying and no one knew why.

Striving to support the Land Trust’s Lagoon Waterfront Initiative launched in 2010, Shulke says they wanted “to have a program that teaches the importance of the life of the lagoon and how we can all impact it.” With the goal of motivating women to become advocates for the interconnectivity of land and water in Indian River County, the idea for Ladies of the Lagoon was born. 

Since its inception in 1990, the mission of the Land Trust has been to preserve, conserve and improve environmentally sensitive property in Indian River County. The nonprofit’s concerted efforts over the last 10 years, aided by the donations of its members, have resulted in the purchase and protection of some 1,000 acres of undeveloped land, including 10 miles of shoreline along the Indian River Lagoon. 

In 2011, they purchased Bee Gum Point, a 111-acre property and one of the last unprotected wetlands on the barrier island. Smith, who was chairing the board at the time, noted, “It was the largest undeveloped property extending into the lagoon on the island, so it was a real prize.” Situated just north of the Lost Tree Islands, it was also an area where the breeding habitats of coastal fish had been significantly impacted by the impounding of wetlands, the transitional regions between the land and open water.