If you ever wished you could run away to a private island, look no further than those little islands that pepper the Indian River Lagoon. Spoil islands are the result of dredging associated with the construction of navigation channels for the Atlantic Intracoastal Water Way from 1951 to 1961. The dredged materials (spoils) were deposited in large piles along the channel edges and eventually evolved into islands.
Today they are easily accessible sanctuaries where visitors can connect with nature and observe wildlife in a tranquil setting. The spoil islands of the lagoon are public, uninhabited, and popular with boaters and paddlers. Many of them, less than a mile from shore, are designated for recreational use, offering sandy beaches, picnic tables, pedestal grills, fire pits, and camping areas. Camping is on a first-come, first-serve basis and no reservations are required. Some islands are more popular than others and fill up quickly on weekends but with dozens of spoil islands open to camping throughout the region, finding a site is not difficult. There are more than 100 of these islands in the lagoon and they range in size from less than 1.2 acres to more than 7.5 acres.
Each island is designated for specific use and purposes, and some are off-limits. Conservation and Critical Wildlife Area (CWA) islands are generally closed to public access as many have developed into valuable and distinct habitats for wildlife and native flora. CWAs are clearly marked with signs visible from the water. Those that are designated for recreation are open for public use and vary in terms of available amenities.
These lands are managed by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Indian River Lagoon Aquatic Preserves Office (IRLAP) and ownership varies between state and federal agencies. Those that are designated for recreational use are maintained by Friends of the Spoil Islands (FOSIFL), a nonprofit volunteer organization. While the recreational islands are a source of great fun and enjoyment, it is important to note that none have trash receptacles, running water, electricity, or restroom facilities.
Before you head out to explore the spoil islands, first take the time to visit the Friends of the Spoil Islands website at WWW.FOSIFL.ORG. There you can find downloadable maps of the islands, how they are designated, and learn the rules of the road when visiting these precious resources. Responsible and respectful use of these lands will ensure that everyone can continue to enjoy them for years to come.