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 November:
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- Vehicle strikes killed five panthers in Florida this month, raising the number to 13 total panther deaths this year. Panthers are a critically endangered species and are referred to as an umbrella species, which means that protecting them also protects other organisms in their habitat.
- The Key deer, which lives exclusively in the Florida Keys, faces extinction due to rising seas drowning its only habitat. Because habitat loss for North America’s smallest deer species is certain, methods to recover the species are limited to placing it in a zoo or relocating it to higher ground, which could have impacts on other wildlife. With over 1,300 endangered species in the U.S., wildlife officials are grappling with how, and if, to save this tiny deer.
- With a significant decline in manatee deaths this year compared to recent years, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is weighing a decision on whether or not to continue the emergency feeding program. The program was started in 2022 after a record 1,100 manatees died of starvation due to the decline of seagrass, the animal’s main diet staple. So far, 491 manatees have died this year. In October, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced that it will be conducting a scientific analysis to determine whether the manatee should be reclassified from threatened to endangered.
- Drainage in the Everglades Agricultural Area has exposed large swathes of peat. This carbon-rich soil sequesters carbon when covered by water but emits it when exposed. Now, growing evidence is pointing to the region as an emissions hotspot, meaning it is a significant source of carbon emissions that contribute to climate change.
- Lovebugs have long swarmed in Florida for mating season twice a year: once in late April and May, and again in late August and September. This year, however, lovebugs have been strangely absent, leaving entomologists mystified. Lovebugs don’t contribute to Florida’s ecosystems as pollinators or disease vectors, so there isn’t much of an incentive to research their recent decline. A 40% decline in all insect species worldwide, which scientists are calling an “insect apocalypse,” could be linked to their disappearance.
- After a record-setting sweltering summer in South Florida, Miami-Dade County commissioners have deferred a bill that would have increased protections for outdoor workers until March. The bill, which passed on first reading in September, would have made Miami-Dade the first county in the nation to pass a local heat law to reduce risks of heat-related deaths and stress by mandating water, rest, and shade for workers. Concerned about the cost of enforcement, county commissioners and leaders in agriculture and construction claimed that a “heat police” could kill industry in the area. Worker advocates in Miami-Dade are still determined to craft legislation to pass in March.
- The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) denied a petition by environmental groups to implement a “vessel slowdown zone” in waters 100 meters to 400 meters deep from Pensacola to south of Tampa to protect the critically endangered Rice’s whale from boat collisions. The current rule requires vessels 65 feet or longer to slow down to 10 knots or less in designated areas during certain times of the year. The petition asked NOAA to require speed limits of vessels 35 feet or longer and expand the area where they apply. Opponents in the maritime industry say that this would have harmed ports from Pensacola to Tampa.
- In October, Miami experienced the highest king tide of the year at 2.75 feet, which is how much sea levels are expected to rise by 2060. King tides occur during a full or new moon and have been exacerbated by sea level rise in South Florida, which pushes these exceptionally high tides more inland. Miami and other cities use pumps to keep neighborhoods dry and suck up water, but researchers warn that these are just temporary fixes that don’t address the root cause. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is drawing up a plan to gain additional funding for flood protection that they aim to have approved by Congress in 2025.
- According to the National Climate Assessment, Florida is one of the states most at risk of financial problems caused by climate change. Other states on the list included California, Texas, and Louisiana. The report also found that warming is affecting all regions of the country and that the U.S. will warm in the future about 40% more than the world as a whole. To prepare, some homeowners and developers in Florida are designing and building homes more resilient to increased extreme weather events caused by climate change.
- On Nov. 18, a 15-foot-by-15-foot sinkhole opened up under a wastewater treatment plant at the Busch Gardens theme park in Tampa. As a result, an estimated 2.5 million gallons of treated wastewater, enough to fill four Olympic sized swimming pools, were dumped into the ground below. The pond does not contain raw sewage and the water that was released had already undergone several steps to remove pollutants, according to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. The state is currently reviewing the theme park’s permits to determine whether any violations occurred and will be reviewing the proposed plans to address the sinkhole.
- People’s Trust Insurance is suing dozens of homeowners impacted by Hurricane Ian who began repairs on their homes using their own contractors. The insurance company says the homeowners were in violation of their policy contract, which stipulates homeowners must use the company’s exclusive Rapid Response Team (RRT) contractor for repairs to be covered. Lawyers representing the homeowners say their clients faced wait times of up to a year for repairs using the RRT. Florida Insurance Commissioner Michael Yaworsky says his office is looking into the matter.
The Good News
- The record Florida ocean heat wave that resulted in scientists relocating hundreds of corals to a lab for refuge is finally cooling down, meaning the corals are to be returned to reefs. Scientists and researchers say this year’s mass-heating event has better prepared them for the next one. While some groups tripled their operation size, other scientists learned new methods to prevent bleaching, like moving the corals to deeper or cooler water.
- Ocean Aid 360 and the Ocean Conservancy are working together to remove ghost gear from the ocean and repurpose the materials into artificial reefs and oyster beds. When fishing nets, lines, crab traps, and other gear are abandoned in the ocean, they become ghost gear. This rogue gear has the potential to trap and kill marine life under the surface. Since most ghost gear is plastic, its slow decomposition degrades the surrounding environment with debris and pollution.
Florida Research News
- A new study shows frogs were the first known Caribbean vertebrates to be found in Florida. They made the journey 20 million years ago when much of Florida was still underwater.
- A new study by researchers at Florida International University has found that urban canals are contributing to the increase of Perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in Biscayne Bay. PFAS are known as “forever chemicals” because when they contaminate the environment, they can stay for centuries. PFAS have been linked to health issues in both humans and marine wildlife.
- The Federal Highway Administration has announced a new rule that would require state and local transportation officials to set declining emissions targets for road projects funded with federal money. Because federal dollars fund a significant portion of highway and road construction across the country, the rule could have a wide ranging impact. In the 2021 bipartisan infrastructure law alone, $100 billion was set aside for road projects. Advocates of the rule hope it will encourage states and local governments to invest in environmentally friendly transit, while opponents worry rural areas might not have the resources to comply.
- Climate change is causing doctors to have serious conversations with patients about how their health may be affected by wildfire smoke, changes in risk of infectious disease, flooding, extreme heat, and medical care adaptation issues. Healthcare workers warn that older adults, children under 5 years old, people living in poverty, pregnant people, and outdoor workers are at the highest risk for health issues associated with a warming climate.
- The Biden administration has launched an “Investing in Rural America” event series to announce the disbursement of $5 billion in federal funds for economic development, climate change mitigation, conservation, infrastructure upgrades, high-speed internet, and renewable energy in rural communities.
The More You Know
- A recent study published in Nature Climate Change states that the Earth may hit its critical climate threshold by 2029. The study calculates a global carbon budget of 250 billion metric tons that can be used before the increase in global temperatures hits a critical threshold of 1.5 degrees Celsius. Once temperatures pass this threshold, scientists say climate catastrophes will increase in frequency and ice sheets will melt at an irreversible rate. If rates of carbon consumption decrease, climate scientists are hopeful that we can stretch this budget to avoid the warming threshold.
- A recent report by the International Cryosphere Climate Initiative says that the world’s ice sheets are melting faster than expected and if global temperatures rise to 2 degrees Celsius beyond the preindustrial threshold, there could be more than 40 feet of sea level rise.