Indian River Lagoon – An Estuary’s History Part I

Indian River Lagoon – An Estuary’s History Part I

Stretching across 156 miles of Florida’s east coast, the Indian River Lagoon system extends from Volusia County (Ponce de Leon Inlet) down to Palm Beach County (Jupiter Inlet).


The Indian River Lagoon is 156 miles long and occupies 40 percent of the east coast of Florida. (Map6)

The Indian River Lagoon (IRL) is a large estuary system which means salt water from the Atlantic Ocean mixes with freshwater that drains from the land, local streams, canals, and storm water outfalls. The whole Indian River Lagoon system itself is made up of three, interconnected estuarine lagoons: Mosquito Lagoon, Indian River Lagoon and the Banana River Lagoon. The 2,284 square mile watershed ranges from half a mile to five and half miles wide, with the average depth of the lagoon measuring about four feet.1,2 Considered the most diverse estuarine ecosystem in all of North America, this shallow-water estuary is home to over four thousand different species of plants and wildlife, serving as a nursery for many species of marine life as well as a biological highway for migrating birds.2,3

Such a diverse flora and fauna attracts bird watchers and fisherman from around the world annually. In fact, the first record of human existence in the IRL dates back approximately 8,000 years ago when the estuary was inhabited by Native Americans.1
The earliest records of the Indian River Lagoon being utilized by man comes from early Native Americans, known as the Ais Indians. They inhabited the Atlantic Coast of Florida ranging from present-day Cape Canaveral to the St. Lucie Inlet and west along the shores of the great lagoon which was once called Rio de Ais (River of Ais), until settlers simply modified the Spanish name to the Indian River. Not a lot of information was recorded about the Ais Indians, though records say they were foragers that hunted and fished the IRL.4,5 Over the next few decades, pioneers would come to settle and develop the region around the Indian River inevitably growing its communities and gaining in popularity. By the late 1800s, the Indian River Lagoon was established as a major area of commerce for fishing, shipping and tourism eventually providing the need for growth. To facilitate the immense growth, roads, bridges and drainage projects were made to prepare the land around the lagoon for urban and agriculture development. Ultimately, the growth outpaced the management of the lagoons resources and now is starting to affect not only the environmental conditions but also the socioeconomic conditions of the region.1

Part II of the History of the Indian River Lagoon will look at its resources and the effects from certain events throughout its history.


1. “Description of the Indian River Lagoon.” Southwest Florida Water Management District. n.d. Web. 19 Sep. 2013. <;.

2. “Fast facts about the Indian River Lagoon.” St. Johns River Water Management District. 5 Apr. 2013.

3. “Indian River Lagoon: background and history.” St. Johns River Water Management District. 5 Apr. 2013. <>.

4. “Coconut Point Sanctuary.” Brevard County Environmentally Endangered Lands Program. n.d. Web. 20. Sep. 2013. <>.

5. “The Ais.” Ancient Native: heritage of the ancient ones. n.d. Web. 19 Sep. 2013.

6. “Indian River Lagoon – An Introduction to a National Treasure” St. Johns River Water Management District 2007.

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