The Friends of St. Sebastian River is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization established in 1989 and governed by an independent Board of Directors elected by the general membership. The following are the goals of the organization, as established by our Articles of Incorporation and the Board:
To promote and protect the environment and recreational opportunities of the St. Sebastian River and tributaries.
To promote public education and awareness . . . and encourage an attitude of conservation.
To protect wildlife . . . and support effective manatee protection.
To improve water quality, working to eliminate point and non-point sources of pollution . . . and stormwater runoff.
To promote safe boating practices . . . and compatible uses.
To support the restoration and preservation of the St. Sebastian River, and tributaries, to their natural state.
To participate and cooperate with agencies and organizations protecting the St. Sebastian River basin through such programs as the Surface Water Improvement and Management (SWIM), Florida Yards and Neighborhoods (FYN) and the Marine Resources Council (MRC).
We support the concept of the "Rights of Nature," that ecosystems and all species are fundamentally interconencted, and the inherent right of existence of the natural world, which ultimately and incalculably benefits humans and all species on earth. The concept of the Rights of Nature is brilliantly and profoundly expressed in this TEDx Talk by Patricia Siemen.
. . . is one of the few remaining coastal rivers in East Florida which has not been heavily developed. It is home to a wide variety of wildlife, including several endangered species. Eagles, otters, dolphins, woodstorks, alligators, and several kinds of wading birds can be observed along the river. The upland area includes habitat for other rare creatures, including the Gopher Tortoise and Florida Scrub Jay. The river is home to many game fish such as tarpon and snook, and a few rare and endemic fish species.
Endangered West Indian Manatees can be found here during any season, and the river is a year-round designated slow speed zone. At times, over one hundred manatees congregate in the St. Sebastian River. Recognizing the river's importance to the survival of the manatee as a species, the State of Florida has purchased large pieces of property with shoreline and uplands along the river.
The winding river is perfect for canoeing and fishing. In some places, the untouched shoreline offers a view of wild Florida as it used to be. Guided tours are available by canoe, kayak or powerboat. There are public parks and boat ramps.
As population increases, we will need to take special care of this beautiful resource. In spite of its beauty, there are problems. Water quality must be improved. Discharge of excess freshwater and nutrients from development and agricultural lands is a major concern. Manatees and other endangered species need better protection.
The Friends of St. Sebastian River has become an effective voice for conservation. With broad community support, we hope to take good care of our river and protect it for future generations to enjoy.
There has been a great deal of recent discussion about the name of our river. Most people when they arrive here are told that it is the Sebastian River. However, the official name of our river is the St. Sebastian River. George Keyes has researched this subject, and on December 21, 1988, the U.S. Board of Geographic Names approved "the names Saint Sebastian River, North Prong Saint Sebastian River and South Prong Saint Sebastian River." Here is the information he submitted to obtain this ruling:
This historical name of our river is described by Bernard Romans, cartographer for King George III, in his book, A Concise Natural History of East and West Florida, "the shore stretches nearly south, to opposite the mouth of the Saint Sebastian River in lat. 27° 56"... in the lagoon and sound many streams of fine fresh water empty themselves; the principal are the rivers St. Sebastian and St. Lucia as the map showes (sic). Romans' 1774 map shows the river as the San Sebastian River."
Don Andres Burgevin surveyed the 20,000 acres of the Fleming Grant for the Captain of the Spanish Militia, Don George Fleming, by decree of the Spanish Government, made June 8, 1819. The entrance to the grant is shown as the St. Sebastian River.
From the book Observations Upon the Floridas by Charles Vignoles, published in 1823, we find the river mentioned, "Five miles below the mouth of the St. Sebastian river (sic), distant altogether eighteen miles from the south end of Meritt's (sic) island, and distinguished by a high red sand bluff on the south point of entrance, the stream like the preceding ones has pine lands alone on its banks, etc."
James Gasden surveyed for a road from St. Augustine to Cape Florida for the U.S. Army along the east coast in 1825. In his report to the Quartermaster General he mentions the names of the principal rivers as obstructions to the opening of a road; on the list is the St. Sebastian. He also mentions that a ferry would be necessary on the St. Sebastian River as it was not fordable.
During the Second Seminole War, Lt. Powell of the Navy, attached to the 1st Reg. of Artillery under the command of Lt. Col. Benjamin Pierce, was ordered down the Indian River with 33 small light boats with two hundred men, with a mixed group of soldiers, sailors and volunteers. On Dec. 28, 1837, they camped on a high oak bluff on the north bank of the St. Sebastian River where they were to ascend at night looking for indians (sic).
Following the Third Seminole War, often called the Bowlegs War, we found that Andrew Canova, discharged from the Florida Volunteers, had built a thatched hut near the mouth of the St. Sebastian River where he lived with Ed. (sic) Marr for three years until he went to St. Augustine to join the Confederate Army in 1861.
Dr. James Henshall from Cynthia, Ky, made three trips to our local river during the years of 1879-1881, in his book Camping and Cruising in Florida he states, "the St. Sebastian from its mouth to this point is from a fourth to one half mile in width, and a mile long. Here it seperates (sic) into the North, West and South Prongs."
In 1889, Dr. Frank Chapman, from the American Museum of Natural History, ascended the South Prong to the headwaters of the St. Sebastian River while on a search for Carolina Paroquets. We find Chapman's description of the river from a paper read (sic) 1 November 1889. "The St. Sebastian River is a beautiful river; no words of mine can adequately describe it. Half mile wide at its mouth, it narrows rapidly, and three miles above appears as a mere stream, etc.
Sylvanus Kitching wrote to his friend in England on Feb.11, 1898, "Yesterday a party of over twenty of us went out on the St. Sebastian River on a fishing picnic."
When Indian River County was formed in an Act of the Legislature, Session 1925, Chapter 10148 (no.126), Approved May 30, 1925, some of the description reads in part, "line intersects the medial line of the South fork of the St. Sebastian River; thence Northerly down the middle of said stream to the main stream of the St. Sebastian River; thence down the middle of the St. Sebastian River to its confluence with the Indian River, etc."
After the Sebastian Area Historical Society was founded in 1985 we found a variety of names had been in use for our local river. Some were Sebastian Creek, St. Sebastian Creek, Sebastian River, San Sebastian River, San Sebastian Bay, and St. Sebastian River. On Nov. 1, 1988, the historical society filed a request with the United States Department of Interior, Board of Geographic Names for a correction to restore the original historic name St. Sebastian River, located in Latitude 27°, 15" and Longitude 80° 29'29"W.
The society received a reply from the Board on Nov.15, 1988 which states "This will acknowledge your proposal to have the name Saint Sebastian River made official for Federal maps and other publications. This proposal has been submitted to the Board on Geographic Names by the National Ocean Service, and the name is on the docket for Board consideration."
On Dec.21, 1988, a letter was sent to the society from the United States Board on Geographic Names which states, "We are pleased to inform you that the Board on Geographic Names, at its Dec. 8, 1988 meeting, approved the names Saint Sebastian River, North Prong Saint Sebastian River and South Prong Saint Sebastian River. These names will be published in Decision List 8804."
On Sept.18, 1989, the Indian River County Board of County Commissioners approved the corrected name St. Sebastian River. In November 1993 Indian River County, through the efforts of the Friends of the (sic) St. Sebastian River, placed signs at both ends of the bridge on CR 512 which indicate South Prong St. Sebastian River.
The Intracoastal Waterway chart #11472, published by the U.S. Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Ocean Service, corrected in 1991, now records the Saint Sebastian River instead of the old designation Sebastian Creek. The signs on the US 1 bridge over the same body of water remained Sebastian River until about 1994 when the Florida Department of Transportation changed the signs to read St. Sebastian River.
Dolph Map Co. of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, corrected their road maps in 1991 to read St. Sebastian River. Dolph Map Co. now does the printing for Rand McNalley (sic).
The Friends of St. Sebastian River was incorporated as a nonprofit corporation on June 30, 1989. Our name was changed in 1998, with the official recognition of the historical name of our local river.
The idea of forming an advocacy organization to protect and improve the St. Sebastian River and its watershed originated with the Roseland Property Owners Association (RPOA, now the Roseland Community Association). At several board meetings in early 1988 the abuses to the river and the surrounding uplands were discussed. Some of the abuses were: 1) speeding boats injuring and killing endangered manatees, 2) high coliform bacteria counts due to dairy farms in the watershed of the river, 3) residential construction very close to the river, 4) inadequately treated effluent from the Barefoot Bay sewage treatment plant entering the North Prong of the river, etc. At the RPOA board meeting of May 10, 1988, director Frank DeJoia made a motion to organize a separate group to look after the affairs of the river. He believed that the river was very important not only to Roseland, but to a larger area of north Indian River and southern Brevard counties. His motion was approved and an organizational meeting was advertised and held at the Roseland Community Center on September 20, 1988.
The Friends started out informally in the latter part of 1988 electing a Board of Directors and officers and initiating monthly board meetings and bimonthly general meetings. Our first president was Bill Rogers followed by Scott Taylor, who served as president for several terms. Our current president, Tim Glover, has served continuously since 1995.
John Evans, a Roseland attorney, assisted greatly, at no cost to the Friends, in getting us incorporated as a non-profit group. John has continued to advise the Friends on legal matters throughout our 20 years.
As we celebrated our 20th year we are very proud of our accomplishments. We are recognized as the most respected and long-lived environmental group in north Indian River and southern Brevard counties. We have played a positive role in many issues that concern the river and its adjoining habitats.
Perhaps the most important accomplishment during these years has been the heightened awareness that we have brought to our members and the general public in matters of concern to both the St. Sebastian River and Indian River Lagoon.
Some of our major accomplishments/issues we’ve advocated for are:
Acquisition of the St. Sebastian River Preserve State Park (formerly Buffer Preserve), acquired through the Florida Conservation and Recreation Lands (CARL) program.
Removal of dairy farms from the River flood plain.
Adoption of boat speed limits and ban of airboats on the River.
Referendum to purchase environmental/conservation lands in Indian River County.
Building setbacks on the River in the City of Sebastian.
Limit and improve the treatment of effluent discharged from Barefoot Bay sewage plant.
Dredging of muck from the River.
Establishment of the George Schum Award for Sebastian River High School senior.
Organizing Committee of the Roseland Property Owner’s Association for the establishment of the Friends of the (St.) Sebastian River
Pat (Dahlke) Hyden
Original Board of Directors of the Friends of the (St.) Sebastian River
George Schum was a longtime member of our Board of Directors, and was involved in many other community activities and volunteer organizations. He was a selfless person and very giving of his time. He was involved in such activities and organizations as the Sebastian Volunteer Fire Department, a Sebastian City Councilman, the Indian River County Parks and Recreation Department, a founder of the Sebastian Area Historical Society, crossing guard at Sebastian Elementary School and as one of Santa's "Helpers" at Riverview Park in Sebastian and other events during the holiday season.
George passed away in April 1997 and the Friends developed this Award to honor George's spirit of volunteering and community service. Our Schum Award is presented each year to a graduating Sebastian River High School senior who has demonstrated similar community spirit, and preferably also demonstrates an interest in environmental and conservation issues. In 2019 we expanded the qualification to also include home-schooled students who reside within the district of the School.
The Award includes a $500 scholarship, and since 2013 we have been able to present two Schum Awards, thanks to the generous donations of Kimberley Maxwell, our 2004 Award recipient! Kimberley has funded the second Award and also participates with our selection committee to choose each year's recipients.
The following is a list of the award recipients to date:
The award is presented to the project or persons that most enhances the St. Sebastian River environment, in one or more of the following areas:
Using environmentally friendly plants
Pest plant removal
Water quality projects
Storm water runoff control
Pollution reduction - fertilizer and other chemicals, installation of sewers, etc.
Open land conservation
Donation or purchase of conservation easement
Planting of appropriate plants along vulnerable areas
If you would like to nominate a person, business or project, click here for the submission form.
The following is a list of the award recipients to date:
Fischer Lake Island Residents/Mike & Melinda Getz - adoption of the Ansin Tract
Dr. Duane DeFreese, Indian River Lagoon Council, National Estuary Program
St. Sebastain River Preserve State Park - South Prong, St. Sebastian River invasive plant removal project
St. Johns River Water Management District - Micco (Wheeler) Stormwater Park
City of Sebastian - Richard Gillmor, Mayor; Joe Griffin, City Manager; for its ongoing work on stormwater issues within the city and the establishment of a Stormwater Utililty; Indian River County's first fertilizer ordinance, subsequently strengthened; monitoring of water quality at city outfalls; support of the Indian River Lagoon National Estuary Program and the Indian River Lagoon Council.
no qualified projects for 2014
Samantha McGee, Environmental Specialist/Biologist, St. Sebastian River Preserve State Park
Brenda Davis, Indian River Soil and Water Conservation District
Jane Schnee - 10+ acres of scrub habitat purchased for conservation, with ongoing restoration
no qualified projects for 2010
Indian River Land Trust
Keith McCully and Cliff Suthard, Engineers, Indian River County Stormwater Department, for their innovative, one-of-a-kind, in-house designed pollution filtration system on the Main Relief Canal in Vero Beach. The system, the brainchild of McCully and Suthard is an extremely effective, "large-volume, low-energy" method of removing tons of debris and pollution that would otherwise end up in the Indian River Lagoon.
Citizens' Coalition of South Mainland (Brevard County)
Dr. David Cox/St. Sebastian River "Greenway" Plan There were numerous people involved in the development and adoption of the Plan, but Dr. Cox was the "brainchild" of the plan and shepherded it through the process of development and eventual adoption. Those others who were involved were: the Indian River County Commission, Sebastian City Council, Pelican Island Audubon Society, Indian River Land Trust, Marine Resources Council, Ruth Stanbridge and the Sebastian Area Chamber of Commerce. Thanks to all who participated in helping to protect "our" river.
Employees and volunteers of the St. Sebastian River Preserve State Park
Drs. Juanita & Richard Baker
Marine Resources Council of East Florida, Inc.
Whitney C. Green, Project Manager, St. Johns River Water Management District
Pelican Island Elentary School "Eco Troop", and
George Koraly & Gordon Maltby
The Deauville Family Lani, Jude and Ryan
Appreciation of Contribution, May 17, 2001
Sebastian Elementary School
"Hand-on-Habitat" Environmental Group
"Academy of Stars 2001", May 15, 2001
Indian River County School District
Certificate of Appreciation, December 19, 1995
Sebastian River Chamber of Commerce
1995 Winter Wonderland Activities
Indian River County Commission Proclamation, May 16, 1995
Shoreline enhancement work - Donald MacDonald Park, Sebastian
Eleanor Kleckner Memorial Conservationists of the Year, 1995
Pelican Island Audubon Society