Vero Beach man paddling Indian River Lagoon to promote healthy waterway

Justin Riney stopped mid-trip in Vero Wednesday

Justin Riney traded his paddle board for dry land, as friends and family welcomed him home in Vero Beach Wednesday.


The 30-year-old founder of marine conservancy organizations  Mother Ocean , Ocean Hour  and Expedition Florida 500  cruised to his pit stop at Riverside Cafe to the sound of cheers. 


"Wow. Vero!" Riney excitedly said on the boardwalk.


Riney's mission is to paddle the entire 165-mile length of the Indian River Lagoon, and even more importantly, promote change for the waterway. 


"This is, well, the middle of day seven," said Riney. "We've got a jam-packed schedule for the rest of the trip."


It's jam-packed with events like spoil island cleanups and meetings with mayors. 


Vero Beach Mayor Pilar Turner gave Riney a special gift .


"I am pleased to present you with the key of the city," Mayor Turner said, as she handed the activist a small silver key with a blue ribbon.


Riney is telling mayors about the disappearing sea grass beds along the Treasure Coast. Scientists say the beds are vital to the lagoon's health, and what used to be grass a year ago is now sand.


The Department of Environmental Protection wants to check back on the grass' progress five years from now. Riney and Mayor Turner say no way.


"We're in crisis, right now," said the mayor.


"You can't wait five years for something like that. It would completely destroy the lagoon," said Riney. 


He is also focused on eliminating trash from the lagoon's spoil islands. Riney says campers and boaters leave so much behind, it's sickening. 


"That's just blatant negligence," said Riney. "We need to drive the message home. Hey, it's not okay to leave this stuff out here. It eventually winds up in the lagoon and then the ocean."


Riney is asking people to follow him on Facebook and Twitter , paddle part of the trip with him and urge city leaders to create ordinances that control pesticides. He says pesticides and fresh water dumps could be contributing to the sea grass problem by provoking algae blooms. 


Riney ends his lagoon paddle with an awareness event and celebration Saturday near the Jupiter Lighthouse. 


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