What is an Estuary?

Estuaries are important nursery grounds for many organisms that later move to oceanic habitats as adults. These rich ecosystems are economically valuable, providing habitat at some life stage for 75% of our nation’s commercial fish catch, and as much as 90% of recreational fish catch. Additionally, estuaries act as natural filtration systems for water as it flows out to the ocean.

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Citizen Science

Citizen science is the collection of data relating to the natural world by members of the general public, typically as part of a collaborative project with professional scientists. At the Marine Discovery Center we work to engage the community in the environmental research happening in our own backyard. We collaborate with environmental scientists, researchers, and universities around the state to bring diverse and informative programs to New Smyrna Beach to give volunteers the opportunity to assist with ongoing research projects. The data collected by our volunteers is used to discover the unknown, aid in management decisions, and influence educational policy. There is always a need for citizen scientists at MDC.

To participate in our citizen science programs, you must first become an MDC Volunteer. Visit our volunteer page for information.


Volunteers will learn how to properly conduct a visual survey, learn to test water quality through a physical/chemical survey and participate in biological monitoring. Participating in the LagoonWatch program is a great opportunity to learn about a unique and valuable ecosystem while having fun outdoors.

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Horseshoe Crab Nesting Surveys

Volunteers survey five locations within the lagoon searching for mating pairs nesting on shorelines. Walking surveys are conducted along shorelines, with volunteers assisting in locating and capturing the animals, as well as recording data and tagging the horseshoe crabs with numbered U.S. Fish & Wildlife tags.

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Seagrass Surveys

Volunteer citizen scientists participating in the surveys record which species are present in designated locations of seagrass beds, as well as how much area each species of grass covers, density and height of the beds, presence and density of macroalgae, water depth across the bed and water clarity. Data is used by SJRWMD to assess the growth and health of seagrass beds in the lagoon.

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Salt Marsh Monitoring

Over time our restored salt marsh has become a vital habitat for many key lagoon species. MDC partners with Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and university researchers to regularly monitor plants, soil, marine species and water quality in the marsh. Volunteers are often needed to help with fish, invertebrate, and plant surveys using equipment such as seine nets, fyke nets, and quadrats.

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Microplastics are small plastic particles measuring less than 5mm in diameter that come from a variety of sources such as poly fiber in clothing, microbeads in cosmetic items, and plastic debris. Plastics do not decompose, rather they break down over time into microscopic pieces that can be ingested and accumulated into the tissues of organisms.

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Shoreline Restoration

Shuck and Share

Lagoon Restoration through Oyster Recycling is just one component of the Marine Discovery Center’s ongoing efforts to restore shorelines in the area.

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Living Shorelines

Living shorelines are an erosion prevention method that use natural barriers such as plants, oysters, and limited rock to protect fragile shorelines while maintaining valuable habitat. Living shoreline projects utilize native and salt tolerant plants at different levels of elevation to avoid the loss of sediment, help to improve water quality via filtration of upland run off, and create habitat for aquatic and terrestrial species

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Our Mission:

"To protect and restore Florida's coastal and Indian River Lagoon ecosystems
through education, research and community stewardship."