Duane De Freese “Our oceans and coasts
ing a great place to work,” he said.
Proctor believes there is no better time
than now for the aspiring entrepreneurs of
Junior Achievement, thanks to the wealth
of help available through incubators such
as Groundswell and organizations such as
“Take advantage of these programs, you
don’t have to do it alone,” he said.
“Find something you are passionate about,
because you will be spending a lot of time
DUANE DE FREESE
Surfing, good for body and soul, also
served as launchpad for Duane De Freese’s
distinguished environmental career.
“I fell in love with surfing and was always
at the beach,” said De Freese, who
has been selected to Junior Achievement
of the Space Coast’s Business Hall of
Fame for his work saving the Indian
“He is considered the foremost expert on
solving lagoon issues,” said Conroy-Baiter.
Growing up in East Rockaway, New York,
De Freese spent as many free moments as
possible riding waves.
“That passion transformed into a passion
for marine biology,” said De Freese, executive
director of the Indian River Lagoon
Council and the Indian River Lagoon
National Estuary Program.
De Freese so loved surfing that he even
briefly got into the business of making
“My twin brother and I turned our parents’
garage into a surfboard manufacturing
center,” he said.
When college time arrived, prospective
schools had to meet a requisite not up
“They had to be somewhere I could
surf,” said De Freese, who earned both a
master’s degree and his Ph.D in marine
biology from Florida Institute of Technology
and did postdoctoral research on the
Indian River Lagoon.
From classic family vacations of the 1970s,
De Freese had already formed an affinity
for the Space Coast.
“A little bit of me fell in love with the
community when I was very young,”
FIT welcomed him, and thus the young
surfer entered the next phase of his life, a
life intrinsically connected with the Indian
River Lagoon and other fragile yet priceless
50: SPACE COAST LIVING | SPACECOASTLIVING.COM
ecosystems in the area. The surfer
became a champion of major ocean and
coastal conservation initiatives that have
benefited both the area’s economy and
quality of life.
De Freese’s approach to conservation is
unusual, for he wins people over not just
by touting the grandeur of places like
the lagoon, but by connecting ecology
with economics and raising awareness
of the critical economic impact of these
“I like to put the private sector perspective
into the public sector,” De Freese said.
For De Freese, the lagoon, the beach and
the ocean represent more than pretty
landscapes. The lagoon generates $7.6
billion annually for the regional economy
through tourism, recreation and industry.
“Our oceans and coasts are the engine
that drives the economy and quality of life
of Florida and the nation,” he said.
De Freese walked the walk with his belief
that all careers can benefit from an injection
of business acumen, attending Rollins
College’s Roy E. Crummer Graduate
School of Business to hone his own skills.
“Many scientists struggle to run the
business of science,” he said. “I believe in
diversifying your background.”
He considers himself blessed to have been
chosen first director for Brevard County’s
Environmentally Endangered Lands
Program, established in 1990 to protect
Brevard’s natural heritage through the
acquisition of environmentally sensitive
land. De Freese excelled at the job,
forging valuable partnerships with other
local, state and federal agencies to save
precious land from development.
are the engine that
drives the economy and
quality of life of Florida
and the nation.”
— Duane De Freese
De Freese also helped secure National
Estuary Program designation for the
lagoon from the U.S. Environmental
Estuary Program, a huge boon to the
future of the Indian River, since the
program works to protect and restore
estuaries of national significance.
He later served as vice president of Florida
research for Hubbs-Sea World Research
Institute, as adviser to the University of
Central Florida’s College of Sciences and
as senior vice president of science and
business development at AquaFiber Technologies,
which patented nutrient-reduction
processes and technologies to reduce
pollution in bodies of water.
“I learned about entrepreneurial thinking
and about what you should and shouldn’t
do as a startup,” he said.
De Freese seems destined to continue
helping the lagoon regain its health. In
2015, he was named executive director of
the Indian River Lagoon Council. Despite
a continuing battle with non-Hodgkin’s
lymphoma, he continues the fight to save
one of the nation’s richest — and most
threatened — estuarine ecosystems.