FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Nov. 30, 2012
PATRICK AIR FORCE BASE AIRMEN VOLUNTEER AT INDIAN RIVER LAGOON AQUATIC PRESERVES
~Airmen battle invasive plants to keep Florida native communities safe~
Airmen clear invasive tress to make room for camping on the island.
COCOA BEACH –Volunteers from the Patrick Air Force Base’s Technical Applications Center reported for a special kind of duty on Friday with the Florida Department of Environmental Protections’ Indian River Lagoon Aquatic Preserves field office.
Volunteers spent the day at Honeymoon West, a spoil island in the Banana River, so that residents and visitors to Florida are able to enjoy boating and fishing a bit more in the lagoon. Led by their commander, Col. Jim Roberts, 16 airmen, who usually man AFTAC’s 24-hour operations center, took on tough invasive species, as they worked together to restore the island with native plant communities.
“Our Spoil Island Enhancement Project depends on volunteers for the labor-intensive work of clearing vegetation that doesn’t belong in the natural plant communities of Florida and restoring the island with native plants”, said Indian River Lagoon Aquatic Preserves Manager Brian Sharpe. “Without volunteers to cut back what doesn’t belong, the exotic species can take over and choke out what should be here. Non-native species put real stress on bird and fish populations that need the Florida native trees and grasses for food, cover and nesting habitat.”
First, the airmen removed exotic plants to create more camping and recreation space. Then, the group planted native upland, shade producing trees to enhance visitors’ experience including pigeon plum, buttonwood, and sand live oak. The trees also help slow erosion. Doing hands-on resource management allowed the airmen to see positive immediate results of improving a stressed ecosystem. The Indian River Lagoon is one of the most biologically diverse estuaries in our nation. It is also known as one of the most important habitats for the population of east coast manatees, who use the river almost year round.
“Our job is about global concerns and missions around the world, and it’s one thing to serve our country abroad, but it’s really important to serve here,” said Airman First Class Aaron Parker, the event organizer. “It brings you back to home to get out in the environment and serve our community.”
The Indian River Lagoon Aquatic Preserves a field site of Coastal and Aquatic Managed Areas. Florida is home to 41 aquatic preserves, encompassing 2.2 million acres of submerged land. Aquatic preserves protect the living waters of Florida to ensure that they will always be home for bird and fish nurseries, and for the enjoyment of future generations. Coastal and Aquatic Managed Areas conserves and restores Florida’s coastal resources for the benefit of people and the environment. For more information on the Aquatic Preserves visit http://www.dep.state.fl.us/coastal/programs/aquatic.htm