Important to Our Community, Our Identity, Our Economy

You don’t have to be a fisherman, boater, ecotourism enthusiast or avid kayaker to appreciate the Indian River Lagoon. You need merely to be a citizen of the Space Coast.

Our constant companion, this estuary flows not just along Brevard County’s 72 miles of shoreline (and the shores of four other counties) but also across many segments of our community. It is a key part of our identity and our economy.

The lagoon has been in the news lately, but not for the right reasons. There was a massive algae bloom in 2011, and a second, smaller bloom in 2012. Since that first bloom, the lagoon has lost an estimated 47,000 acres of sea grass, the plant that constitutes the basis of the lagoon’s ecosystem and serves as a barometer of its overall health.

Though some fishing guides report healthy hauls of fish in areas of the lagoon, it is undeniable that the lagoon is, to use the phrase of Troy Rice, director of the Palm Bay-based Indian River Lagoon National Estuary Program, in distress.

 

3.7 Billion Reasons

So why should this matter in the world of economic development? One major reason is that the lagoon is an integral part of our quality-of-life offerings, and being known as the region with water quality issues is not a story we want in the national media.

Companies located here might think differently about where to expand if such a cornerstone of our community were to further degrade. Whether the lagoon or the rivers are an active part of their business model, as they are in many marine-based businesses, or whether the focus is on providing attractions and activities employees expect, these waterways are an essential element of economic development.

When you talk to executives and workers from companies that the EDC has helped bring to the Space Coast, they of course talk about our workforce and high-tech heritage, our business-friendly tax climate and competitive wage structure. But they also talk about our schools, our weather and the amazing tapestry of natural amenities, from the beaches to the boating to the fishing and ecotourism, many of which we can attribute to the lagoon.

Economic development is also about dollars and cents, and in that area, there are 3.7 billion reasons why we need a healthy lagoon: that’s the annual financial impact the lagoon brings to its five counties, according to the Indian River Lagoon Economic Assessment.

“The lagoon, in my opinion, is one of the most important economic components of our community here in the east-central area,” Rice said.

We’re not just talking boat dealers and repair operations, bait shops and marinas, though they are certainly an essential part of the business sector the lagoon helps support. It is more varied than that. It is also hotels, restaurants, gas stations and numerous other retailers, from convenience stores to clothiers.

In total, the 156-mile lagoon supports 15,000 full and part-time jobs, the Lagoon Economic Assessment determined.

 

No Time to Waste

The Sebastian Inlet, one of the premier saltwater recreation areas in the region and a key component of the lagoon, hosted nearly 21,000 boat trips in 2012, according to a study commissioned by the Sebastian Inlet District and presented to the Brevard County Commission in December. That’s thousands of people spending across a variety of retailers.

“It’s quite a web,” noted Marty Smithson, the administrator of the Sebastian Inlet District, of the economic impact.

It’s a cliché to say we don’t know what we have until it is gone, but the thousands of people whose interaction with the lagoon may be just a quick glance as they drive over one of the causeways may not realize the economic impact generated by this amazing natural resource. It is measured in spending, yes, but also in image, community attributes and other ways that aren’t as easy to quantify.

It is, in the end, about the essence of our community – identity, economy, and quality of life. If we don’t work together to ensure the lagoon is restored to full health, all of us, no matter our relationship with the lagoon, will surely feel the loss.

To learn more about the Indian River Lagoon and the simple steps you can take to help, go to ItsYourLagoon.com.

 

Lynda Weatherman is president and CEO of the Economic Development Commission of Florida’s Space Coast.