Coastal Connections

Mapping sense of place in the Indian River Lagoon

About Project

Research Question: Why are particular places in the Indian River Lagoon meaningful to people, and how can this sense of place inform restoration?

Welcome to the Community Mapping Site for the Indian River Lagoon. We want to learn about the Lagoon from community members, organizations, and citizen scientists. Please click on the map below to share your own knowledge about the Indian River Lagoon (IRL). We use online mapping from citizen scientists to understand:

  • what motivates an individual to develop a strong sense of place or emotional attachment to the IRL
  • where such motivations occur throughout the IRL. By participating on this mapping site, you acknowledge that your mapping data will be part of the open data domain.

This project seeks to understand the role of natural systems in sustaining humankind. Significant attention is often given to the degradation and exploitation of natural resources by society, but human activities also seek to improve natural systems through restoration. Despite the prevalence of restoration projects, there is a critical knowledge gap in understanding what constitutes ‘success’ and whether traditionally accepted metrics of success (e.g., survival rate of plantings or number of volunteers) are indeed indicative of measurable impacts (e.g., improvements to ecological function or enhanced stakeholder buy-in). The objective of the proposed research is to quantify the relationship between restoration success and impact, both within and between human and natural systems. The PIs will leverage an extensive monitoring dataset for 80+ oyster reef and living shoreline restoration projects on Florida’s Indian River Lagoon (IRL) that have spanned nearly a decade and involved over 51,000 volunteers. New experimental data related to site- and lagoon-scale ecosystem responses to restoration will be integrated into a comprehensive assessment of stakeholder perceptions, attitudes, and sense of place within the natural system using participatory GIS and focus groups. Research products will adapt the existing vulnerability and adaptive capacity frameworks to address human-natural system dynamics, creating highly transferable knowledge regarding the critical attributes of communities that cascade into beneficial feedbacks between humans and restored ecosystems.

Coastal communities are dynamic and complex places made up of interrelated human and natural systems. Coastal communities rely on their surrounding natural environments for recreation, leisure, economic activities, storm protection and a number of other services. The Indian River Lagoon is no exception. According to the Smithsonian Marine Station, the Indian River Lagoon occupies more than 30% of Florida’s east coast supporting jobs in commercial and recreational industries to produce $250 million in income annually.

While restoration efforts in the Indian River Lagoon, and elsewhere, have traditionally focused on ecological functions of natural systems, social dimensions of environmental issues have received less attention. Yet, the social aspects of restoration are essential to understand since people have the power to impact restoration success while restoration decisions can influence people’s well-being.

The CNH Coastal Connections team is working to better understand people’s connections to the Indian River Lagoon. The motivating research question in this study is: what are the key factors that allow individuals in Central Florida to have an emotional connection or sense of place in coastal restoration efforts in the Indian River Lagoon? This work is part of a larger NSF-funded project, “Restoration and Resilience in Coupled Human-Natural Systems: Reciprocal Dynamics of a Coastal Lagoon.”


If you have questions about the community mapping project, please contact Dr. Timothy Hawthorne at University of Central Florida at 407.823.1030 or If you have questions about the National Science Foundation project in the IRL, please contact Dr. Linda Walters at University of Central Florida at 407.823.2148 or

NSF Abstract

Click here if you’d like to read the National Science Foundation Abstract of Award for this project.

Terms of Use

Disclaimers: Please share with your networks through email and social media. This project is funded by National Science Foundation Coupled Natural-Human Systems Program Award #1617374. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

Coastal Connections Team

Dr. Timothy L. Hawthorne

Founding Research Director

Dr. Bo Yang

Postdoc | drone mapping

Dr. Hannah Torres

Assistant Professor

Elise Lorenzo

Graduate Research Assistant & Outreach Coordinator

Sara Peluso

Student Staff

Madison Sears

Student Staff

Tyler Copeland

Graduate Research Assistant

Amber Rutstein

Student Staff

Morgan McDonald

Student Staff

Hellen Tran

Student Staff

Dr. Fernando Rivera

NSF CNH Co-Principal Investigator

Danielle Stewart

Student Staff

Tori-Gaye Atterbury

Undergraduate Research Assistant

Carolynn Turneur

Student Staff

Nicholas Altizer

Key Personnel

Kirsten Bouck

Undergraduate Research Assistant

Merry Johnson

Student Staff

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