With an opportunity to reverse decades of paving over paradise to put up a parking lot, Marine Discovery Center (MDC), along with community partners and local enthusiasts, will remove a large area of impervious pavement, reshape the shoreline, and convert the shoreline and several upland parking lot medians into a productive coastal habitat.  The project, underway behind the scenes and starting on-site this month, will remove 13,000 square feet of the parking lot and hardened shorelines and restore these into a Living Shoreline.

The Living Shoreline habitat will be constructed and planted by community members with over 1,000 trees, shrubs, and grasses.  In addition, MDC will expand its community education programs by utilizing the interpretive trail which will be formed and connected to existing parts of the shoreline.

With over ¾ of Florida residents living on or near our coastal ecosystems, estuaries like the Indian River Lagoon are experiencing an overall decline in water quality, including more algal blooms, fish kills, and unusual mortality events.  Designated as an Estuary of National Significance and touted as North America’s most biologically diverse estuary, the Indian River Lagoon is under threat. If the population in Florida doubles in the next fifty years as predicted, we may witness the loss of almost 6 million acres of land to roads, shopping malls, and subdivisions. The impact of this growth would result in a reduction of ecological services such as water and air filtration, carbon sequestration, and aquifer recharge, while increasing saltwater intrusion into our aquifer and pollution into our ground and surface waters.

So how do we reduce the environmental and community impact associated with urban sprawl? MDC looks for opportunities to increase ecological services provided by healthy habitats and engage the New Smyrna Beach community in the process.  Expanding on a 5.5-acre salt marsh and mangrove forest restoration project in 2014, MDC has an opportunity to remove additional impervious surfaces and expand productive upland and Living Shoreline habitat on its 22-acre campus.

In 2011, MDC moved into an existing building on the site of the old New Smyrna Beach High School.  The site accommodated over 2,100 students, faculty, and support staff and had many buildings, parking lots, and other amenities.  With a focus on education, conservation, and recreation, the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), MDC, and other partners began returning the property to its natural state while engaging the community in the importance of protecting and restoring the Indian River Lagoon.

Briefly, projects that have been completed include:

2011: Removal of all buildings (except one), track, tennis courts, racquetball courts, and sidewalks.
2014: Completion of a 5.5-acre mangrove and salt marsh habitat restoration and enhancement project coupled with a  Living Shoreline Demonstration area. Community volunteers planted over 25,000 spartina alterniflora (saltmarsh cordgrass) and other grasses to bring the area back to life.
2015 and 2016: Completion of a butterfly and native wildflower garden as well as a nature playscape area.
2019: Completion of additional native landscapes, a kayak launch, and an outdoor amphitheater.
2023: Removal antiquated stormwater retention area, installation of a larger stormwater detention area, and continuation of more native landscapes and a regional, multi-use trail system and restrooms.

MDC Aerial Site Timeline

Adding to MDC’s 23,500 linear feet of already restored shoreline, the creation of this new 300 feet of Living Shoreline and the interpretative trail will include traditional stand-alone signs and smartphone tours using Engage by Cell.

Integrating both traditional and modern technology allows the Center to engage all visitors to the site through active and passive education. With no admission fee and 24-hour access to the shoreline, the project has a broad reach to the public and over 30,000 program and event participants annually.

Design of the new Living Shoreline

This program is funded through the Disney Conservation Fund, which has been awarding monies to non-profits since 2014 for water stewardship efforts. In addition, MDC is working with the FWC, St. Johns River Water Management District, and the City of New Smyrna Beach.

MDC will post updates on their progress to social media sites Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn, and right here on our website at marinediscoverycenter.org. For more information or to join the community activities that support this project, contact Tess Sailor-Tynes, Conservation Science Coordinator at 386/428-4828 or [email protected].

Check out this feature on the project from Spectrum News 13!