Local Knowledge, Sense of Place, and Coastal Restoration in the Indian River Lagoon

Fernando Rivera, University of Central Florida, Sociology-Puerto Rico Research Hub, Orlando, FL, United States, Timothy Hawthorne, University of Central Florida, Sociology, Orlando, FL, United States, Hannah Torres, Old Dominion University, Political Science and Geography, Norfolk, VA, United States and Dr. Lain Graham, PhD, University of Central Florida, Sociology, Orlando, United States
Florida’s Indian River Lagoon is among the most biodiverse estuaries in North America. It is an Estuary of National Significance, a Florida Water of Special Importance, and is unofficially known as the Redfish Capital of the World. After a massive algae superbloom in 2011, recurring brown tides, unusual animal mortalities, and large fish kills, this once flourishing ecosystem appears to be in crisis. As such, the Indian River Lagoon National Estuary Program and its various partners are heavily investing resources into lagoon restoration and recovery. The purpose of our research is to better understand and integrate local knowledge into such restoration and recovery projects. Through focus groups and participatory mapping exercises, our work highlights stakeholder perceptions of environmental conditions, as well as priorities for restoration actions and locations. We contend that community members’ knowledge ought to be considered as expert knowledge in restoration and environmental management, and we propose strategies for effectively integrating such knowledge into restoration planning. Our work also examines the concept of sense of place (i.e. emotional attachment ascribed to a particular geographic space) as it relates to restoration support and future priorities. Studying sense of place through participatory mapping and GIS allows us to infuse human concerns into the scientific research processes occurring in the Lagoon and other locations for future restoration priorities.