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 December:
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11 Florida Stories to Watch
- The EPA is seeking to further restrict poisons used to kill rodents. The chemicals used to control rodent populations often also poison higher-ups on the food chain like birds of prey and some smaller mammals. The agency hopes that by limiting the use of these toxic chemicals to certified professionals, fewer off-target species will be killed.
- Red tide levels have risen in the aftermath of hurricane season. Different sea animals continue to wash ashore, and red tide’s fishy odor continues to waft across many shorelines. Experts studying the recent detection of red algal blooms in Tampa Bay suspect that conditions will worsen before getting better. Harmful levels of Karenia brevis, the organism that causes red tide, have been detected near the area where Hurricane Ian made landfall. While hurricanes do not cause red tide blooms, their heavy rains and winds can move nutrient-rich water that feeds algal blooms into coastal areas. Several county officials in Southwest Florida have issued health warnings for visitors and locals.
- As a result of tropical storms Ian and Nicole, Jacksonville’s beaches have lost around 2.7 billion pounds of sand. The two storms shrank the beach and weathered the sand dunes that protect the nearby houses and businesses. The storms also washed away about 750,000 sea oat plants, which root themselves in the sand dunes to keep them in place. A beach renourishment is expected to occur within the next few years to bring sand and sea oats back to the Jacksonville shoreline.
- A longstanding debate about what Tampa should do with its wastewater remains in limbo. Currently, Tampa pumps 50 million gallons of reclaimed water into Tampa Bay every day, but because of a new state law, the city must end the discharge of wastewater into waterways by 2032. The Tampa City Council is currently trying to formulate a new disposal plan but opposes the mayor’s proposal to inject it into the aquifer, which would mix wastewater with city drinking water sources. An exemption to the law that was requested by the city council has been denied. In January, the city plans to use money already allocated to this project for a workshop that will answer some of the environmental concerns of this situation.
- The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has launched a project to restore more than 100 acres of land and 40 acres of mangrove forest that comprise the largest freshwater wetland in the lower Florida Keys. The project will include removing abandoned roads and constructing water control structures to provide flood protection and help limit the amount of saltwater that intrudes into the freshwater wetland.
- FWC officials have approved a no-entry zone in an area where manatees gather in Brevard County, meaning the area will be closed to boats and people. A record number of manatees died last year from starvation due to a lack of seagrass, brought on by poor water quality in the Indian River Lagoon. While projects to restore water quality are still ongoing, officials hope this measure will prevent any further deaths from boat collisions.
- December is the start of the Atlantic right whale calving season, but experts warn that with numbers continuing to dwindle, extinction is a real possibility. Of the 340 right whales along the east coast of North America, only 70 are breeding females. One of the main causes of death to right whales is collisions with watercraft. Several proposals to protect the species are currently accepting public comments.
- For years, boat propellers have scarred seagrass in shallow waters, contributing to the seagrass die-off that led to the mass starvation of Florida manatees. In the Tampa Bay Estuary, seagrass acreage declined by 16% between 2018 and 2020. A University of Florida research team’s new AI-powered mapping project will pinpoint scarring locations in the estuary. So far, they’ve already found nearly 24,000 scars. In the next phase of the project, they will collaborate with the Tampa Bay Estuary Program to translate that information into boater education and outreach programs.
- A study by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the University of Miami’s Cooperative Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Studies has revealed that Florida’s reef tract is now shrinking faster than it is growing. The reef tract was nearly stable for 3,000 years until the onset of human-caused climate change led to warming waters and ocean acidification, which can both lead to coral bleaching or death. Researchers have built a model that will help scientists to target restoration work going forward.
- FWC officials have voted to deny a proposal that would have allowed the captive breeding of diamondback terrapins. Supporters of the proposal said the measure would have alleviated pressure put on wild populations due to illegal poaching. However, officials said opening a market and lessening the turtle’s protections would only increase poaching and lead to native population declines.
- In a new study of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill, researchers discovered that even small amounts of oil can halt spawning and cut survival rates of Florida’s most beloved fish – the mahi mahi. Previous experiments performed on lab-bred mahi mahi showed similar results, including damage to their hearts, hearing, and vision.
The Good News
- It’s not all bad news for the global climate outlook. In this year’s analysis by the Global Carbon Budget published in the journal Earth System Science Data, it was reported that over the past two decades, global deforestation has slowed, and global fossil fuel pollution will only rise by 1%. Additionally, thanks to the lower cost and higher availability of clean energy sources, some are projecting that the global fossil fuel demand will peak by 2025, or even has peaked already.
- When an area is urbanized, the natural environment is replaced by heat-absorbing materials like concrete. This causes temperatures, including water temperatures, to rise. But a study conducted in Melbourne, Australia shows that green stormwater control can lower water temperatures and improve water quality. Catchment systems such as rainwater capture tanks and rain gardens filter and cool urban runoff, preventing pollutants from reaching nearby lakes and streams.
- Twin Rivers Park in Martin County was recently named one of the Best Restored Shores of 2022 by the American Shore and Beach Preservation Association. Faced with an eroding shoreline, the county stabilized the shore naturally by creating a salt marsh and mangrove habitat.
- Thanks to sustainable fishing programs in the Amazon, the pirarucu, a saltwater tarpon that can grow up to 10 feet long and weigh up to 450 pounds, is thriving again. In the 1960s, their population started to decline due to the larger boats and motors, improved nets, and ice-making machines that led to overfishing.
Florida Research News
- Scientists at Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium have developed a treatment for black band disease in corals. This infectious disease, which can spread rapidly in the warm waters of Florida and the Caribbean, leaves a dark band across corals and eats their tissue. According to scientists, one of the main challenges was to get the gel-like medicine to stick to the corals, especially in a liquid environment. Working with pharmaceutical scientists, the team infused a hemp rope with an antimicrobial ointment and wrapped it around the coral for seven days, which proved to be effective in killing the disease. The researchers say the treatment does not use antibiotics, making it unlikely the corals will develop resistance.
- More than 30 representatives from government agencies, universities, research institutes, and non-governmental organizations from the U.S., Mexico, and Cuba recently convened for the Gulf of Mexico International Ocean Acidification Summit to discuss methods to combat increasing ocean acidification in the Gulf. As water becomes acidic, it can eat away at the structures of organisms like oysters, shrimp, and corals. In the coming months, the group plans to release a white paper to provide decision-makers in these countries with suggestions on how to monitor and help.
Things You Can Do
- In 2020 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed a plan to designate certain areas as critical habitats for the endangered Florida bonneted bat. A new revision to the proposal would reduce the protected area’s acreage by 21%. While supporters say the revision still meets the bats’ conservation needs, critics argue that it eliminates areas that are imminently threatened by development. The USFWS is collecting comments from the public to help them determine whether the changes can be made. You may leave your feedback through January 23, 2023.
- If your child is stressed about climate change, they are not alone. More and more, young people are exhibiting signs of what experts refer to as “eco-anxiety.” But luckily, many have found healthy ways to cope. Check out these tips and tricks, for kids, by kids.
- Trees are an important tool in fighting climate change. They absorb carbon dioxide and heat-trapping greenhouse gases and provide a habitat for 80% of Earth’s plants and animals. Yet, deforestation continues to be a problem globally – the world has lost about a billion acres of forest since 1990. Over 50% of deforestation comes from farming, mining, and drilling with urbanization, forestry practices, and wildfires making up the remaining percentage. Conservationists hope that recent reforesting and rewilding efforts could help to curb deforestation and protect existing forests. Consumers can help to protect forests by making smart shopping choices. When possible, choose products that are sustainably sourced and produced, certified by groups like the Forest Stewardship Council or Rainforest Alliance.
- The EPA has proposed increasing the amount of ethanol and other biofuels that are blended with the nation’s fuel supply over the next three years. Ethanol is a corn-based biofuel and is considered renewable because of its low carbon emissions. This action has been condemned by environmentalists who say increased corn production promotes unsustainable farming practices and could result in ecological harm.
The More You Know
- The white pine is a foundational species of the North Woods, the boreal forest of North America that ranges from Minnesota to Maine and up through Canada. This pine stores large amounts of carbon and creates a habitat for many forms of wildlife. But, the species has suffered an estimated 75% population loss in Minnesota alone due to logging practices. A family that runs a five-generation forest products company kickstarted efforts to regrow the white pine forest by planting millions of saplings. To prevent deer from eating them, they staple a piece of white paper over the bud, a technique now utilized by conservation groups throughout the North Woods.
- Sharks and rays are often snagged by deadly hooks as bycatch, but a new device may help to change that. Sharks, rays, and related species can detect even tiny electric fields. The recently developed SharkGuard, which can be attached to fishing lines, deters sharks and rays by overwhelming their sensory system with a pulsing, short-range electric field.
- A new study has provided scientists with more information about the role that fjords, which are long, deep arms of the sea carved by glaciers, play in the global carbon cycle. A 2015 study showed that although small, fjords act as an important carbon sink, helping regulate temperatures as climate changes. But scientists have recently discovered that fjords are also carbon sources during glacial periods, meaning their status as a carbon sink is temporary. The authors say this study points to the need to focus on these smaller parts of the carbon cycle system, like mangroves in Florida.
- The International Union for Conservation of Nature has announced that more than 700 new species are threatened with extinction, including the dugong, a close relative of the Florida manatee. Numerous species of abalone and a type of Caribbean coral are also on the list.