Johnson Engineering was selected by the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) to conduct an oyster habitat mapping project in the St. Lucie Estuary. The mapping, slated to begin in early 2018, will be conducted as part of the RECOVER program under the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP). The RECOVER (REestoration, COordination & VERification) program comprises a multi-agency team that provides scientific and technical evaluations and assessments for improving CERP’s ability to meet its goals and purposes.

The Northern Estuaries Module of RECOVER includes estuaries on both the gulf and east coasts of Florida. The four east coast estuaries include the St. Lucie Estuary, the South Indian River Lagoon, the Loxahatchee River Estuary, and Lake Worth Lagoon. Water and sediment quality are being affected in these systems from urbanization of the coast. Sea level rise is also a factor affecting the ecology of the estuaries.

Conceptual ecological models have been developed for the various estuaries, from which hypothesis clusters have been derived. These clusters have identified sets of indicators that can be used to evaluate restoration progress. One such cluster is oyster health and abundance. Water quality has been identified as a primary factor for the Northern Estuaries. The oyster monitoring component of RECOVER aims to understand changes in flow and salinity and how each affects the estuaries over time. Oyster living density varies considerably along salinity gradients. Therefore, by periodically mapping the area of oyster coverage in the estuaries, and estimating living density, we can better understand how watershed changes impact oyster populations over time, and provide a means by which restoration success can be evaluated.

This project will be part of resource mapping in the estuaries to track landscape changes in benthos and assess the effectiveness of CERP restoration projects. Johnson Engineering has teamed up with experts in the field for this intricate project. Smart-Sciences, Inc., Florida Oceanographic Society, and Land & Sea Surveying will each play a pivotal role in making this project a reality.

For more information contact Jessica Ward at [email protected].