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To pair with the rest of our educational content in each Earth to Florida newsletter, we bring you monthly updates on statewide environmental news. Read on below to see what we found for the month of August:

  • Nearly 900 manatees have died in Florida this year, prompting officials with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to determine 2021 as an unusual mortality event, and one of the worst in the last 25 years. Most of the deaths have been blamed on starvation after water quality problems and algal blooms have killed up to 90% of seagrass – the manatee’s main food source – in some areas. In 2017, manatees were reclassified as threatened rather than endangered. However, two legislators have introduced a bill to place manatees back on the endangered species list as officials prepare for what they expect to be another deadly winter.  
  • According to a recent report, between 2010 and 2020, upwards of 66.3 million gallons of fracking waste has leaked into the Gulf of Mexico. Advocates hope to use this information when proposing more protective measures to lawmakers.  
plants lining stormwater pond
UF/IFAS researchers and Extension agents will study how well plants absorb nutrients that wind up in stormwater ponds. They hope to make stormwater pond plantings a Best Management Practice. Photo, courtesy, Michelle Atkinson, UF/IFAS Extension Manatee County.
  • In an effort to reduce the amount of nutrients like phosphorus and nitrogen entering our waterways, UF/IFAS researchers have placed plants in and around stormwater ponds throughout Manatee County. Their hope is that the plants will prevent the nutrients, which have been known to contribute to algal blooms, from escaping stormwater ponds. If the operation is successful, they hope to implement it throughout the state. 
  • Temperatures soared in late July along the Florida panhandle. While temperatures were in the mid to upper 90s, the combined heat and humidity made the air “feel” as if it were in the 110s. The excessive heat watch gave way to the heat dome, which made its way across the country this summer. Scientists say this summer could change our understanding of extreme heat, with many rushing to find an explanation. This summer won’t be the last time we experience such record-breaking temperatures. Researchers suggest as warming continues, these unprecedented temperatures will be more frequent.   
  • A team of researchers has discovered the first great hammerhead shark nursery on the entire American Atlantic coast. The 1-square mile critical habitat for this endangered species sits in North-Central Biscayne Bay in Miami between Key Biscayne and Matheson Hammock Park. The team says the finding emphasizes the importance of protecting the Bay, which has suffered from algal blooms and overfishing in recent years.  
  • In late July, the restoration of the Kissimmee River, part of the multibillion-dollar Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, was completed. Over the years, the river was dredged and channelized to provide flood control and support development and farming in Central Florida. By restoring more of the river’s natural flow, the goal of this project is to improve water quality and help control the flow of water to Lake Okeechobee, preventing harmful releases of polluted water to the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie Rivers. 
    wild pig
  • What’s the problem with pigs? Wild pigs are one of the most damaging invasive species on Earth. Florida alone is home to an estimated 750,000 of them. They harm crops and native wildlife by uprooting soil at vast scales – globally the cumulative area of soil uprooted by them is nearly the same area as Taiwan.  Now, a study has found that wild pigs worldwide release as much carbon emissions as 1 million cars, something that can be a big driver of climate change. Wild pigs are tough, intelligent and breed rapidly, making them difficult to trap. But, reducing their numbers might be worth the effort to help reduce global emissions. 
  • new pavement treatment can reduce certain types of air pollution by nearly half, and Orlando wants to be one of the first cities to try it on a larger scale. The treatment reflects sunlight and captures pollutants like the greenhouse gas nitrous oxide and other volatile organic compounds. Smaller test sites in Orlando have shown positive results so far. The city is now considering a 2.2 square mile area for the treatment at the interchange of I-4 and the 408 Expressway. 
  • Veterinary researchers at the University of Florida have discovered a new pathogen that is fatal for gopher tortoises. They speculate that another invasive reptile might have introduced the pathogen to the tortoises. Additionally, scientists suspect that warming temperatures could weaken their immune systems, making them more prone to disease. Gopher tortoises are of high importance because their burrows provide shelter for around 360 other species. The gopher tortoise is currently protected under the Endangered Species Act in Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi, but it’s only a candidate for protection in Florida.  
  • During a routine survey of the Tamiami Canal in Miami, researchers discovered a strange legless amphibian group known as caecilians. The animals are originally native to Colombia and Venezuela, but their range extends to southern areas of Mexico. Some caecilians spend their lives buried underground, while others exclusively inhabit freshwater. Their name translates to “blind ones” which is fitting due to their extremely poor eyesight, but a pair of sensory tentacles sits between their eyes and nostrils to help them find food. It’s currently suspected that these amphibians made it to Florida as the result of someone discarding their unwanted pet into the canal. Florida Museum of Natural History experts say it’s too early to predict their potential impact on local ecosystems, but they don’t appear to be serious predators. 
  • Following a public meeting in June, Monroe County officials agreed to spend $1.8 billion to elevate streets and add pump stations throughout the Keys as a way to prevent sea level rise-induced floodingBut the county’s budget will not cover the full cost, leaving officials to rethink budget priorities in the face of climate change.  
  • A fatal disease caused by a virus called Turtle Bunyavirus (TBV) has been ravaging several species of turtles in Florida:  Florida softshell turtles, peninsula cooters, Florida red-bellied cooters, yellow-bellied sliders and red-eared sliders. Officials with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission have issued an executive order prohibiting the take or transport of all freshwater softshell turtle species or yellow-bellied sliders until further notice.  
  • The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has designated 190 miles of waterways in Florida and Georgia as critical habitat for the Suwannee moccasinshell, a freshwater mussel that was once thought to be extinct. Museum collections helped inform officials on the state of the mussel’s decline.