A Walk Through Bee Gum Point: Indian River Land Trust Works To Preserve Natural Habitat

Jan 17, 2019

Credit Tania Ortega-Cowan

Diminishing habitat. Red tide. News of our local environment is often quite… grim.

But there’s more to the story.

Each day, people with hopeful hearts and scientific minds work together to preserve what we do have…. and to improve it for future generations.

KG: “It’s nice that there are places like this that we can still save.”

That’s Ken Grudens, Executive Director of the Indian River Land Trust.

We have just arrived at Bee Gum Point – 111 acres owned by the Land Trust on the north Indian River County barrier island. It is one of 18 properties totaling over 1,000 acres along the shore of the Indian River Lagoon they own and manage.

KG: “Going back 100 years almost, it was slated for development, and now it is protected forever.”

We’re surrounded by opulent gated communities, but here, it is as if we have stepped back into an early scene from the famous Florida book, A Land Remembered…. No buildings in sight. No traffic. Right now, it’s just us and natural, native Florida.

Bee Gum Point is such an important wintering stopover for migratory birds and waterfowl that the US Fish & Wildlife Service helped the Land Trust acquire it with a grant to protect the bird life. These wetlands also serve as significant fish nurseries, particularly for tarpon and snook.

KG: “There were these natural creeks that ran through the property – tidal creeks. If you look at the historical photos, it doesn’t look so much like a peninsula as it does like a series of broken up land forms bisected and trisected by these creeks.”

It became a peninsula back in the 1950’s when they were impounded for mosquito control and physically isolated from the Lagoon with earthen dykes. Before this, they acted as the kidneys of the Lagoon, filtering the water and pulling out nutrients. It most especially hurt the fish nurseries.

KG: “It’s really the partnerships that have enriched our ability to do something.”

Together with Florida Institute of Technology and Indian River County Mosquito Control, they have created Tidal Exchange Culverts, opening up those places the creeks were blocked to make strong re-connections to the Lagoon. They also tag and monitor fish activity.  

KG: “We’re hoping, and we’ve come a long way with this project, that the subtle changes in management will really become a model for other impoundments up and down the Lagoon.”

The path we are walking was once slated to be a major causeway connecting the barrier island to the mainland. And just a few feet below us runs the water and electric supply to Indian River Shores. All around us are loads of little crab holes and thick mangrove. Just out of sight are bobcats, a host of raccoons, and even a healthy population of diamondback terrapin turtles. Within just a few minutes, we see roseate spoonbills and federally protected wood storks.

KG: “We have a partnership with Pelican Island Audubon Society. And one of our Audubon partners has come out here on a regular almost daily basis to identify and count bird species.”

Through this partnership they have identified 156 species of birds that use this property!

Some of the Land Trust properties are open to the public, but not Bee Gum Point due to the environmental sensitivity. However, they do give private bird count tours during the winter. And several times a year they partner with Gifford Youth Achievement Center to bring young people out.

KG: “It’s not highly structured but they get a chance to go out and be on a property like this and touch mangroves and see fire ant piles and get to the Lagoon, some of them have never been to the Lagoon.. ever! So that has been a nice, small but poignant program for us.”   

There are a dozen or so other groups that partner with the Land Trust and plenty more they do together than time here allows. Learn more at http://www.irlt.org/