Eagle Scout project helps bolster Indian River Lagoon


Eagle Scout Vincent Schiffer drafted a proposal to attach oyster mats and bags to docks and seawalls to preserve and restore the Indian River Lagoon.

Julie Sturgeon

In search of an Eagle Scout project, Vincent Schiffer consulted with his troop’s assistant scoutmaster for ideas.

“I was interested in doing something that would make an impact on the local environment,” Schiffer said.

Knowing that Schiffer was environmentally inclined, Assistant Scoutmaster Dave Bookman for Troop 720 suggested he contact two Florida Institute of Technology (FIT) professors.  The professors were involved with a project called Living Docks.

“Living Docks has to do with the preservation and restoration of the Indian River,” Schiffer said.

Kelli Hunsucker and Robert Weaver, the FIT professors, host Living Docks work days, during which members of the community can participate in attaching oyster mats and bags to docks and seawalls along the Indian River Lagoon.  Schiffer signed up to help during one of the Living Docks sessions to get a feel for the process.

“They educated me on what oyster mats are and why they are used,” Schiffer said.

The purpose of the oyster mats is to attract benthic organisms, including oysters, barnacles and sponges, which contribute toward keeping the Indian River Lagoon healthy.

Oysters are pearls in this chain of the river’s ecological makeup. According to Hunsucker and Weaver, oysters can filter up to 50 gallons of water a day.  A healthy Living Dock community can filter up to 57,000 gallons of water per day.

After participating in a Living Docks project, Schiffer was hooked on oysters.

“It definitely seemed like a good sustainability project,” Schiffer said.

With guidance from the FIT professors, Schiffer drafted his proposal and proceeded to accumulate the three materials needed for the mats — oysters, mesh mats and ties. Schiffer was able to get all the oysters from a donation from the Brevard Zoo, and the mats were donated by Memphis Net and Twine.

The project itself was done in two parts. The first was a work day, which entailed drilling holes in each of the oyster shells and preparing the eight mesh mats.

Several weeks later, the mats were installed to pilings on the dock of homeowner Angie Doswell, who lives on the Indian River.   

The project went as planned. Six months later, homeowner Doswell is happy to be a participating member in the Living Docks program. And Schiffer said another scout in Troop 720 is now in the planning stages of his own oyster mat project.

“I am super ecstatic about another scout doing this project now,” Vincent Schiffer said.

Schiffer said he periodically checks on the mats that he and fellow scouts installed, reporting the findings to the Living Docks team.

“I am ecstatic about setting an example of this type of project,” Schiffer said, “And to see a person donating part of their waterfront to a sustainability project.”

Schiffer graduated in May from Viera High and is now a student at the University of Central Florida. He is majoring in Biology, with an emphasis on environmental sustainability.

Living Docks is part of the Indian River Lagoon Research Institute. Residents interested in the Living Docks program can call 321-674-8936 or email khunsucker@fit.edu for more information about IRLRI related activities.