In 1973, Harbor Branch, in collaboration with Smithsonian Institution colleagues, began its first major research project: the Indian River Coastal Zone Study, a multi-year plan to establish baseline studies of the Indian River Lagoon (IRL) and adjacent continental shelf ecosystems in unprecedented detail. Facilitated by Harbor Branch’s location on the IRL, the Study was prompted by emerging recognition of the effects of population growth on these ecosystems, and would expand to include disciplines such as plankton ecology, marine botany, benthic ecology, fouling communities, crustacean biology, coral biology and physical oceanography. The Study would become the nucleus of Harbor Branch research, and after eight years of benchmarking, its focus shifted to the mechanisms that drive and control the ecosystems. During the course of the Study, a number of individual research programs became established and continue today.
Exploring the relationships between human activities and change in estuary and ocean systems remains central to Marine Ecosystem Health research at FAU Harbor Branch, with areas of focus that include corals , harmful algal blooms and marine botany .