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 October:
This page contains the following sections:
- A new report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture projects a slight rebound for Florida orange production after last year’s historically low numbers. While the Florida orange industry is still experiencing a decades-long decline in production, the hopeful numbers are infusing optimism into the industry’s road to recovery.
- The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will conduct a new scientific review of the West Indian manatee in Florida to see if the species should be reclassified as an endangered species following thousands of deaths in recent years. Nearly 2,000 manatees died in Florida in 2021 and 2022, representing more than 20% of the state’s population. Most of the recent deaths can be attributed to starvation due to widespread losses of seagrass, the manatee’s main food source. The review follows the decision made in 2017 to downlist the manatee from an endangered to a threatened species.
- Rising ocean temperatures are pushing endangered North Atlantic right whales closer to busy shipping lanes, which has led to an increased number of vessel strike deaths. In response, some environmental groups have petitioned the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to implement speed limits in areas that are new to whales. There are only about 340 right whales left, and more than a third of all deaths are from ship collisions.
- A new study warns that Florida’s financial future is threatened by rising sea levels. Conducted by Cornell and Florida State universities, the study cites problems with Florida’s tax revenue systems, which generate almost 30% of their money from the sale and development of coastal properties. The study also presents solutions such as including future rising sea levels in comprehensive development plans for future rising seas and finding different ways to generate tax dollars.
- The Manatee County Commission voted to reduce environmental protections for surrounding wetlands. Scientists say the change will most likely harm local water quality, which is already failing to meet state standards. This would make it easier for everyday families to install structures such as a pool or basketball court. Residents fear the changes could lead to increased flooding and disturbance of sensitive environmental areas.
- Okaloosa County commissioners unanimously objected a proposal by the National Marine Fisheries Service to designate waters in the northeastern Gulf of Mexico as critical habitat for the Rice’s Whale, a recently discovered and endangered whale species. Commissioners argued that the proposal would interrupt military testing and training in the area, as well as harm the local fishing and tourism industries. Designation of critical habitat in this area does not mean the area is closed. Rather, any industry that aims to use the area must consult with NOAA first to make sure its actions won’t adversely impact it.
- The tiny Miami cave crayfish lives under the city of Miami in the underground aquifer. But now, rising sea levels are causing saltwater to leak into its freshwater habitat, putting the species at risk. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is moving to classify the species as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Scientists say this rarely seen species is an important indicator of climate change threats, and protecting it also means protecting ourselves.
- In June, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a controversial bill that would allow the testing of radioactive phosphate manufacturing waste as a building material for roads. According to documents filed with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the company that lobbied for the bill wants to double the amount of waste used in the pilot roadway and increase the length of the road by 2,000 feet. Using phosphogypsum as a road material has been proposed before, as far back as the 1980s. But the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency nixed the idea after it found significant environmental and human health safety concerns.
- A new report released by Karen & Clark Company says that insurance costs will continue to rise in Florida due to four factors: hurricanes, non-hurricane catastrophes like tornadoes and severe storms, inflation and rising construction costs, and reinsurance supply and cost. To avoid such high insurance premiums, some Floridians are moving to Ocala, which Climate Alpha rates as the Florida city with the lowest risk of coastal flooding.
- In September, 20,500 gallons of oil-polluted water leaked into the basin of Port Manatee. The spill was completely cleaned by September 21, with about 6.4 tons of debris removed from the area. Even after the U.S. Coast Guard ended its investigation into the incident in early October, the source of the spill is still a mystery.
- Due to the recent marine heat wave, elkhorn and staghorn coral species have suffered massive losses in the Florida Keys. Scientists say these two kinds of coral are at risk of becoming functionally extinct, a situation in which there may be a small number of living organisms, but not enough to facilitate a species’ recovery. To prevent this scenario, scientists brought the specimens out of the ocean and into labs in an effort to save them from record-breaking ocean temperatures. Scientists say it’s not too late to rescue Florida’s reef and that restoration efforts are constantly working to save corals.
The Good News
- In a new initiative to help conserve coral reefs, Tampa Bay restaurants are saving oyster shells that would previously have been discarded. The shells will be cleaned and cured in the sun for a minimum of 90 days before being placed into the Tampa Bay estuary to bolster oyster reef habitats and defend coastlines from erosion. Currently, Tampa Bay Watch is collecting roughly four tons of shells a month from area restaurants.
Florida Research News
- A team of researchers from the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences has received a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to develop a low-cost mosquito trap and a web-based dashboard to improve surveillance of invasive mosquitoes across the Southeast U.S. There are 17 non-native mosquito species established in the state, and scientists are concerned about the rate and frequency of new species introduction in Florida. Over the next two years, scientists will try different scents, temperatures, and light exposures to see what proves to be the most effective.
- A team of researchers from the University of South Florida, Florida State University, and the University of Florida has been awarded a grant by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to map fish kills following a red tide event. This information will then be shared with regulators to determine harvesting regulations. While the information can help resource managers in the near term, the researchers also hope to combine red tide data with climate change data to predict what fishing regulations will look like in the next few decades.
- Following Hurricane Ian in 2022, researchers at the University of Florida and the University of Maryland found an uptick of several types of Vibrio bacteria off the coast of Lee County. Collected water samples in the region revealed the presence of Vibrio parahaemolyticus and Vibrio vulnificus bacteria, which thrive in warm salt water and can proliferate during hurricanes and floods. The bacteria can cause illness or death for people who eat raw or undercooked seafood or go into the ocean with an open wound. The eastern U.S. has also seen an eightfold increase in Vibrio infections. While most cases are typically found in states along the Gulf of Mexico, warming waters due to climate change are causing the species’ range to spread northward. Researchers say these findings highlight how important it is to understand how weather and climate relate to pathogens that impact humans.
- Researchers from Florida State University, the University of Texas at El Paso, Sandia National Laboratories, and the University of Utah have been awarded a $4.9 million U.S. Department of Energy grant to explore the possibility of using geothermal energy to generate electricity. The team will also identify techniques for removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and storing it underground. The study is part of the DOE’s Earthshots, a nationwide initiative aimed at using subsurface energy systems in developing clean energy solutions.
- Engineering researchers from Florida State University and Florida A&M University are developing a tool that will be able to predict harmful blue-green algae, or cyanobacteria, outbreaks. The hope is that the interactive tool will help local officials better prepare for and manage the outbreak.
- To identify how to best prevent boat strikes to sea turtles, researchers at Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium are collecting data on boater speeds in a new voluntary sea turtle protection zone, which stretches from Longboat Key to Siesta Key on Florida’s west coast. Boat strikes are especially prevalent during nesting season for sea turtles. During this time, sea turtles spend more time on the surface of the water and close to nesting beaches, increasing their risk of being injured or killed by boats.
- A new study by researchers at Florida Atlantic University suggests that higher sand temperatures due to climate change are limiting the survival of leatherback turtle hatchlings. Researchers found that eggs laid later in the season were subject to unusually hot sand temperatures during their incubation, which led to lower hatch rates, less coordination, and shorter flippers.
- The U.S. Department of Defense is working with three international teams of scientists, including some from the University of Miami, to build a “perfect” hybrid reef made of concrete and coral. The project, X REEFS, has already received $7.5 million and may receive more than $20 million by the end of the project.
Things You Can Do
- Individual and household actions may be able to reach 25-30% of the greenhouse gas emissions reduction needed to reduce the impacts of climate change. Project Drawdown has published a list of the 20 individual and household climate actions that make the biggest impact. These actions include reducing food waste, eating a plant-rich diet, and installing solar panels.
- The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has launched a new form to report sick, abnormal, or deceased freshwater turtles in an effort to research the fatal turtle fraservirus 1 (TFV1). If you see a turtle that has an outstretched head and neck, abnormal eyes, reddened skin, appears to be sluggish, or swims irregularly, report it to the FWC.
- Climate change is causing extreme weather that is disrupting major manufacturing and supply chains and causing companies billions of dollars in economic losses. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission plans to make regulations that will require businesses to disclose their greenhouse gas emissions and the risks they face from climate change, a practice that puts pressure on firms to cut their climate pollution and can help curb greenwashing. However, many companies and lobbyists are pushing back, aiming to limit the new regulations.
- The National Park Service recently bought two houses threatened by sea level rise on the North Carolina coast. Now the agency is planning to tear them down and turn the land into a national park. This type of buyout marks a potential trend for property threatened by the impacts of climate change.
- The Biden administration announced that it is putting $7 billion from the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure law toward building seven regional hydrogen power hubs in 16 states. The hubs are expected to create tens of thousands of jobs and reduce carbon emissions by an equivalent of 5.5 million gas-powered cars.
- The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has declared more than 20 species from 16 states as extinct. This includes the Bachman’s warbler, a rare songbird that hadn’t been spotted in the U.S. since 1962.
The More You Know
- A study published in Nature found that Category 4 and 5 hurricanes are occurring about 15 days earlier worldwide and intensifying faster than they were in the 1980s. Warm sea surface temperatures due to climate change prime coastal regions for storm development earlier in the year, potentially moving up the start of storm season.
- A report has indicated that amphibians are threatened by extinction more than any other vertebrate group and most of their decline has been attributed to climate change. The decline of amphibians has many scientists worried, but not all the news from this report is bad. One hundred and twenty species of amphibians saw improvements in their conservation status.
- Despite an active Atlantic hurricane season this year, most tropical storms and hurricanes seem to have avoided making landfall in Florida. According to meteorologists, this is partially due to tropical storms being diverted by large, high-pressure atmospheric forces such as the Bermuda or Azores High, which change locations each year. Additionally, a semi-permanent trough has been sitting over the east coast, blocking many storms from going to the US. However, Florida may not yet be in the clear, as Cape Verde is due to shift, and more storms will have the potential to form in the warm waters of the Caribbean.