Research and community partnerships will come together this week to benefit the Indian River Lagoon.

On Thursday, the Ocean Research and Conservation Association (ORCA), along with students and teachers from the Florida Institute of Technology, more than 30 elementary schools and 28 environmental organizations, will participate in the 5th annual ORCA event. A day in the life of the Indian River Lagoon. This public science program allows students, faculty and environmental partners to collaborate to collect water quality data and biological inventories at more than 40 sites in six counties along the 156-mile estuary.

Florida Tech teams up with Central High School to explore oyster mats at Rickman Park, part of the university’s Live docks program. Kelly Hunsaker, associate professor of ocean engineering and marine science, is leading Florida Tech’s participation in the event. She said the goal is to give students hands-on experience to transfer the concepts they learn in the classroom to real-world settings.

“It’s one thing to talk and teach about salinity and different nutrient levels and fish species, but it’s another thing to go out and go through the process of collecting a water sample and analyzing it,” Hunsaker said. They see that the high phosphate area or the salinity here is much lower than we thought. We may ask, “How so?” Or, “Wow, I didn’t know this species of fish existed in the Indian River Lagoon.”

Anytime you can do something practical, it’s more meaningful, it’s more memorable, it has more impact,” she said.

Along with outreach, data collected along the IRL will be used for classroom and laboratory research. Also, through the Living Docks program, Florida Tech has installed 100 oyster carpets over the years around various docks in Brevard County to promote the growth of oysters and other filter organisms to help clean the lagoon. The team returned to study the mats, and this event is another opportunity to do so and analyze their effectiveness in filtering the Indian River Lagoon, as well as introduce high school students to this restoration concept.

A Day in the Life IRL will also be a rewarding experience for Florida Tech students participating in their first major outreach event since the pandemic.

“I think we’re just excited to get out there and do what we love again and be able to share that with the students at Florida Tech,” Hunsaker said. “Many of them who are coming are doing an outreach event for the first time or doing one like this. They will be able to share their love of marine science with middle school students.”