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:
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- Hurricane Idalia made landfall near Keaton Beach, Florida as a major Category 3 storm, bringing powerful winds, heavy rainfall, and intense storm surge to much of Florida’s Big Bend and surrounding areas. While authorities are still trying to assess the extent of the damage, insured property losses in the state are expected to reach $9.6 billion.
- New data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration show that the Gulf of Mexico oceanic dead zone, or hypoxic zone, is smaller than average this year. Hypoxic zones are areas with little to no oxygen that can be deadly for marine life. Discharge from the Mississippi River is a big contributor to the Gulf’s dead zone. Nutrients from fertilizer runoff in the river stimulate algal blooms once the water reaches the Gulf. When the algae die, oxygen is pulled from the water during decomposition. This year, the area of the dead zone is 3,058 square miles, making it somewhat closer to the goal of 1,900 square miles by 2035.
- A severe marine heat wave led to massive coral bleaching events, especially in the Florida Keys, where hotter, saltier water sinks to the bottom of the sea. Amid reports of near-mortality on some reefs, scientists and volunteers worked to collect and save as many coral specimens as they could. Other researchers with the University of Miami Rosenstiel School planted nursery-raised corals along areas off Key Biscayne to see which ones might be able to survive high temperatures. A bipartisan group of Florida lawmakers wrote a letter to NOAA, urging the agency to use its power under the Coral Reef Conservation Act to support the conservation and rescue of threatened corals. Although Florida’s corals are the most impacted by this heat wave, experts are saying this is merely the tip of the iceberg, and the hot waters could lead to a global bleaching event.
- Escambia County is on alert after two West Nile virus cases were reported and Miami-Dade and Broward counties have had several reported cases of dengue virus. Most of the dengue cases are travel-related, with a majority of cases coming from those who visit places where the disease is endemic, like Cuba. Both illnesses are contracted by mosquito bites, so the best way to prevent infection is to cover your skin or wear insect repellent. Additionally, minimizing the amount of stagnant water in your living area will help prevent the spread of mosquito-borne diseases.
- Despite opposition from residents and environmental groups, Manatee County commissioners voted to reduce wetland buffer zones by five feet in the county’s comprehensive plan and development codes. Wetland buffer zones surround and protect lakes, rivers, streams, and bays. Environmental scientists are concerned about what this decision will mean for local water quality. The proposed changes will be sent to state agencies for review. A final vote by the Manatee County Board of Commissioners will be scheduled for later this year.
- A new report from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission shows that there were fewer manatee deaths this year compared to last year. Wildlife officials say there were fewer starvation-related deaths this year, but an increase in deaths related to boat strikes. So far, 403 manatees died this year compared to 657 manatee deaths in August of last year.
- A Climate Central report has declared that Miami has the third-worst urban heat island effect in the country. The heat island effect is a phenomenon causing cities, with fewer trees and more concrete, to have higher temperatures than the surrounding natural landscape. The rising South Florida temperatures are a public health issue: Miami-Dade Fire Rescue has received 99 calls related to heat exhaustion and heat stroke this year. On a global scale, July was the hottest month ever recorded. This heat was attributed to El Nino, solar fluctuations, a volcanic eruption, and climate change. To be better prepared, President Biden has announced additional protections for workers and some Florida architects are exploring ways to incorporate cooling aspects into the designs of buildings.
- Next-generation technology could help cool South Florida homes while also cutting costs and carbon emissions. The downside is that some builders and developers are reluctant to get on board. While money will be saved in the long run, initial costs are higher, which causes some business owners to worry about their profits from initial sales. The new technologies include “cool roofs” made of reflective materials that can keep buildings up to 50 degrees cooler in summer, plant-covered “green roofs,” and high-efficiency windows.
- The state of Florida and other states recently sued the federal government over its recent overhaul of the National Flood Insurance Program. The overhaul, which the Federal Emergency Management Agency says takes more accurate risk models into consideration, has resulted in higher insurance premiums for some customers. The plaintiffs claim that the high insurance premiums will cause people to leave Florida and depress property values. But the Biden administration recently urged the judge to toss the lawsuit, saying even though individual policyholders face an increased price in insurance, the plaintiffs aren’t entitled to take legal action. Residents can learn more about the overhaul in this publication by the Gulf of Mexico Sea Grant Outreach team.
- Miami-Dade County has a garbage problem. The county faces a $40 million budget deficit for waste collection, residents recycle less than a fifth of their garbage, and most critically — they are running out of landfill space. In contrast, nearby Palm Beach County has the best recycling rates in the state with a “dual-stream” process to separate recycled goods and prevent contamination. The Miami-Dade County Department of Solid Waste Management agrees that changes are necessary and that they are “working on a plan that [will stand] the test of time.”
The Good News
- State lawmakers approved the purchase of a $3 million conservation easement that will protect 135 acres along Marion County’s Rainbow River from future development. Additionally, Florida residents will get to decide whether more than 5,000 acres of farmland in Hardee, Highlands, and Charlotte counties will ever be developed thanks to conservation easements purchased through the Rural and Family Lands Protection Program. The land will now be part of the state’s wildlife corridor, a network of connected green spaces that allows wildlife to roam freely while helping protect natural resources from pollution and overuse.
- A study by University of Florida researchers showed that Floridians favor tree protection measures, even on private property. The study authors were surprised by this result because tree protection on private property often means limiting development and can cause conflicts between conservation and property owner rights. The majority of survey respondents showed support for urban tree protections, and, notably, 82% of participants said they would consider planting a tree on their property if they received a tax incentive.
- Out of the top 10 U.S. cities for electric vehicle friendliness, Miami ranks at number eight. California cities make up more than half of the list, and Miami is the only Southern or East Coast city to make the list.
Florida Research News
- Researchers at the University of Miami Rosenstiel School measured the mixing of Indian and Atlantic Ocean waters to learn more about how climate change is altering the water flow. The salty Indian Ocean waters leak into the Atlantic, which can increase the density of the water and result in more overturning in the conveyor belt-like of Atlantic Ocean currents. Increased overturning transports more heat to the north, which can potentially result in more ice melt in the Arctic. The data collected will take years to analyze and report.
- Scientists at the University of Miami are studying how the slowing of the Gulf Stream can impact sea levels near Florida. A month ago, a controversial study was published saying the ocean’s “conveyor belt” may collapse. The UM study will help researchers determine if the conveyor belt, also known as the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC) is slowing down. The weakening of the AMOC could lead to sea level rise in South Florida, so monitoring the Gulf Stream could help predict future sea levels and the amount of flooding coastal areas like Miami may see.
- University of Florida scientists completed a 10-year field study on how to eradicate invasive species from the Everglades. Over the ten-year period, researchers removed 251 invasive spectacled caimans from the Everglades and completed a blueprint to be used for future removal efforts. Currently, more than 250 invasive species call the Everglades home.
- A new study released in PLOS Climate reveals that the richest 10% of households in the U.S. are responsible for 40% of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions. The study’s authors analyzed income data across U.S. households from 1990 to 2019 and linked it to emissions generated directly and indirectly from that income, including investments that supported greenhouse gas emissions.
The More You Know
- The ghost orchid, a rare flower made famous by the Susan Orlean novel “The Orchid Thief,” may be in a fight for its life. Despite a 50-page petition and a statement from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), the federal government has failed to give the flower a federal endangered species designation. Now, environmental groups are threatening to sue the federal government for inaction. It has been recently estimated that there are only about 1,500 ghost orchids remaining. The flowers have always been at high-risk for poaching due to their rarity, but now also face increasing threats from the effects of climate change and development. The FWS already has a backlog of species from the previous presidential administration, and according to environmental lawyer Jaclyn Lopez, is “constantly underfunded.”