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 May:
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- Climate change is increasing the cost of basic needs like rent, food, water, power, and gasoline in the Florida Keys, causing many middle- and low-income residents to leave. Some affordable homes have been included in post-Irma rebuilding efforts, but with higher tides, heavier rains, and increased flooding, longtime residents wonder about the cost to fortify these homes against the effects of climate change.
- The National Weather Service has lowered the threshold for extreme heat warnings in Miami by 3 degrees Fahrenheit. Miami-Dade County leaders urged the agency to do so to better protect residents from extreme heat, which kills about 34 people per year in the area. If the initiative succeeds, the NWS will extend this policy to other South Florida counties.
- Severe red tides and blue-green algal blooms have killed one out of every five Florida manatees in the past two years, with the death toll reaching nearly 2,000. Five months ago, environmental groups petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to bump the manatees from “threatened” to “endangered” to garner stricter protections for the mammal. The federally mandated deadline to respond to such petitions came and went two months ago. Now those same groups are suing the federal government for failing to address the issue within the 90-day window.
- Only 50% of the historic Everglades remain today and 70% of water flow has been lost, but efforts to restore the natural system have been underway for decades. Passed in the year 2000, the ambitious $21 billion Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan is the largest hydrological restoration project ever undertaken in the U.S. In late 2022, a restudy of the plan was authorized through the Water Resources Development Act. The restudy will consider previously disregarded factors, including climate change and flood risk management, and is expected to take up to a decade to enact, beginning in 2024 or 2025.
- The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has granted researchers $7 million to help them come up with new ways to promote coral growth on Florida’s ailing reefs. Grant funds will go toward growing corals underwater and on land at the Mote Marine Laboratory’s Aquaculture Research facility. They will also grow and release Caribbean king crabs, which help to control algae growth. These projects aim to grow and place 242,000 coral fragments and 34,000 Caribbean king crabs on Florida reefs over four years.
- NOAA has reported that the El Niño brewing in the eastern Pacific Ocean may be stronger than normal and has the potential to bring global temperatures to record highs. El Niño, a natural climate pattern, normally raises global temperatures, but this one could temporarily increase the global average up to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial temperatures.
- Researchers say a mysterious spinal disease is leaving endangered Florida panthers disoriented and wobbly, and for some, it is fatal. The disease, which is for life, attacks a panther’s spinal cord and leaves holes in the protective sheath around the vital nerve. A multi-state task force has been assembled to try and figure out what is causing the disease and how to stop it.
- To protect and restore parts of the Weeki Wachee River, state wildlife officials initially proposed to ban the mooring of boats along 20 of its sandbars. Now the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is revising the plan to mirror a stricter rule proposed by Hernando County, which would ban boats from mooring along a two-mile stretch of the river. Officials will revisit the issue at a July 19 meeting.
- While greenhouse gases are warming the air close to the Earth’s surface, a new study confirms what climate modelers have long predicted — that those same gases are simultaneously cooling the atmosphere above. This finding further confirms that climate change is caused by humans. This cooling effect could cause new problems concerning the safety of orbiting satellites, the fate of the ozone layer, and sudden changes to weather patterns.
- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has proposed regulations that would require coal and gas-fired power plants to eliminate nearly all greenhouse gas emissions in just over a decade. These regulations are based on technologies that would store 90% of the carbon dioxide deep underground, but the regulation itself would not mandate the use of this equipment. If the regulation is finalized, this would be the first time the U.S. government restricted the greenhouse gas emissions of existing power plants.
The Good News
- A new study has discovered that corals growing near Port Miami are more resilient than offshore corals to higher temperatures, salinity, acidity, and other stressors. Scientists are working to determine how these corals persist in such a harsh environment in hopes they might be able to apply the characteristics to offshore reefs.
- Stu Sjouwerman, a Clearwater businessman and founder of an online security platform, has donated $2.5 million to the Florida Wildlife Corridor Foundation, the largest donation ever made to the organization. The goal of the foundation is to preserve the group of interconnected wild areas in Florida known as the wildlife corridor. This area is vital to the success of endangered species like the Florida panther who need space to roam.
Florida Research News
- Risk assessments of impaired oyster reefs across the Gulf and Atlantic coasts of the U.S. using conventional methods take a lot of time and effort. But drone technology may help with that. New research out of the University of Florida shows that drone-based lidar, which uses rapid laser pulses that measure distance, can accurately map and quickly evaluate the condition of an oyster reef. This method also saves time and money, as a single drone flyover of an entire oyster reef takes the same amount of time as a single manual count, which only captures a tiny part of the reef.
- A research group spearheaded by Akito Kawahara, curator of lepidoptera at the Florida Museum of Natural History, has developed the largest, most comprehensive butterfly phylogeny to date. The “butterfly tree of life” is a remarkable compilation of gene sequencing from over 2,000 species spanning 90 countries and represents 92% of all genera. The undertaking reveals a history that begins with a group of moths in North America forgoing their nocturnal lifestyle for the daylight, rife with nectar-filled flowers. By further understanding the butterflies’ history, scientists have also been able to investigate their mutualistic relationship with flowering plants, which has allowed for the rapid diversification of both groups.
- A new discovery about the diet of the critically endangered Rice’s whale may offer another clue for scientists working to protect the species. A research team led by scientists at Florida International University performed stable isotope analysis on the skin and blubber of 10 of the 50 total remaining whales. Results revealed that 70% of the whale’s diet is the silver-rag driftfish, a schooling fish high in protein and lipids. While the fish is still prolific in the whale’s Gulf of Mexico home, scientists want to ensure that it stays that way.
- Researchers from Florida State University conducted a study to analyze the carbon exported from surface waters of the California Current Ecosystem. The study found that the dominant process for transporting carbon through the marine ecosystem is sinking plankton particles that migrate to the deep ocean due to ocean currents. The study is the first-ever to quantify the total carbon sequestration for an ocean region and will form the blueprint for how processes that sequester carbon could change as temperatures rise due to climate change.
- Rising costs and increased skepticism about the usefulness of recycling have caused cities across the country to scale back or cancel municipal recycling programs. However, a study from researchers at the University of Florida and Florida Polytechnic University shows that recycling provides a return on investment similar to that of transitioning to electric vehicles or purchasing green energy. The study authors say if local governments restructure their programs, recycling could pay for itself while reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
- Researchers at FSU have developed a new authenticity test that accurately identifies Atlantic white shrimp. Instead of having to ship a sample to a DNA testing lab, the FSU-created test can produce results onsite in as little as two hours. The researchers hope this new test will result in more accurate labeling to help ensure the safety of seafood consumers, as each shrimp species can have different allergens.
- In the Indian River Lagoon, clam fishermen have recently expressed concern that rays, which have been spotted near their clam leases (designated areas to grow clams), could damage their equipment and decrease their harvest. Inspired by these reports, Florida Atlantic University’s Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute conducted a study to learn more about how whitespotted eagle rays and cownose rays interact with clam leases. They found that the rays were spending more time in the clam leases than the fishermen thought, but they still spend most of their time elsewhere. The study highlighted the need to continue monitoring mobile predators in the region.
Things You Can Do
- Crystal River is known for its manatees, but some researchers are turning to a lesser-known inhabitant, the bull shark. Scientists hope to collaborate with community members like local fishermen to track and count the sharks. In addition to providing more valuable academic knowledge about the species, the data could improve public safety measures. If you are interested in submitting shark data, donating, or working as a temporary research assistant, contact firstname.lastname@example.org for information.
- North Atlantic right whales are especially vulnerable to fatal boat strikes. In 2022, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration proposed boat speed limit changes to reduce these fatalities. But the proposal has faced opposition from boaters and fishing advocates who are concerned that the amendments will negatively impact their livelihoods.
- This September, the EPA plans to propose a new rule that will clarify how states can take control of federal wetland and waterway dredge-and-fill permitting programs. Up for clarification is the Clean Water Act’s Section 404, which allows states to administer dredge-and-fill activities if they can prove they have the capability to do so. Alaska, Nebraska, and Minnesota are the three states discussing this issue with the EPA. After approval by the Trump administration, Florida also took control of its own wetlands permitting, a move that drew criticism from environmental groups.
- A report published last year found that a regulatory loophole is allowing 96% of power plants around the nation to pollute groundwater with toxic coal ash, the waste remaining after coal electricity production. The Biden administration is proposing a new rule to address the loophole and extend monitoring, closure, and cleanup requirements.
- Municipal landfills are one of the largest contributors of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S., accounting for 14% of methane emissions. A new report by the Environmental Integrity Project has found that these emissions could be reduced through stronger regulations and monitoring requirements.
The More You Know
- A University of South Florida professor broke the record for living underwater without depressurization for 74 days at Jules’ Undersea Lodge in Key Largo. Though he broke the previous record by a few hours, he plans to resurface when he reaches 100 days underwater as part of an underwater mission called Project Neptune 100.
- Off the coast of southeastern China, the Bombay duck, a type of fish, is experiencing a population boom. Scientists say this is because the waters in this area are polluted and have extremely low levels of oxygen, conditions that suit the Bombay duck. In the last 60 years, the area of water in the ocean with low oxygen has increased by 1.7 million square miles, and the oxygen levels are expected to decline up to 7 % below 1960 levels. The Bombay duck population increase provides a glimpse into how lower ocean oxygen levels could change the types of fish we are catching and consuming.