University Establishes Lagoon Research Institute
MELBOURNE, Fla., Jan. 22, 2014 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Florida Institute of Technology Associate Professor of Oceanography and Environmental Systems Kevin Johnson received $250,000 from the St. Johns River Water Management District to track the factors affecting the Indian River Lagoon (IRL) superbloom in the northern lagoon.
"Algae should be eaten by herbivores, but IRL algae have been blooming out of control despite grazers," said Johnson. "My research will focus on the distribution and abundance of herbivores in the field and on lab tests to examine the diets and feeding rates of grazers, including their potential to consume nuisance algae."
Harmful algal blooms in the IRL are becoming common with the recent "brown tide" resulting primarily from a species of algae known as Aureoumbra lagunensis. These blooms are largely to blame for the recent dramatic loss of sea grass habitat, dietary problems in manatees and other IRL issues. Johnson is currently conducting field monitoring of critical sites between Melbourne and Titusville; he's sampling zooplankton fortnightly with the hope of better understanding the grazers in the algal bloom ecosystem.
In response to the pressing issues of the health of the Indian River Lagoon, Florida Tech recently established the Indian River Lagoon Research Institute (IRLRI). The institute is a collaboration of the university's scientists, engineers, coastal resource managers and educators, working independently and with community organizations to improve and sustain the health of the Indian River Lagoon, especially in view of the harmful algal blooms.
Leading the new institute are Assistant Professor Robert Weaver, Department of Marine and Environmental Systems (DMES), director; Professor Gary Zarillo, DMES; and Associate Professor Jon Shenker, Department of Biological Sciences, co-directors.
The lagoon environment's decline has elicited alarm. "This has motivated the university's faculty researchers to unite with a common goal of addressing the present crisis and ensuring the sustainability of proposed solutions," said Johnson.
Florida Tech has conducted lagoon research for more than 30 years. The new institute has access to state-of-the-art laboratories and field sites for chemical and biological testing and for designing and developing engineering solutions to harmful algal blooms and other lagoon problems.
"We recognize the importance of healthy ecosystems to the economic and recreational growth and viability of all coastal regions. The IRLRI will partner with neighboring organizations, local governments and research institutions to reinforce our efforts and increase the coverage of our research," said T. Dwayne McCay, Florida Tech executive vice president and chief operating officer.
More than 20 faculty members have agreed to participate in the IRLRI and to bring their students into future projects.
About Florida Institute of Technology
Florida Tech is the only independent, technological university in the Southeast. The university is ranked in the top 200 in the Times Higher Education (THE) World University Rankings 2013-2014, has been named a Barron's Guide "Best Buy" in College Education, and is designated a Tier One Best National University in U.S. News & World Report.
SOURCE Florida Institute of Technology