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:
This page contains the following sections:
- Following Hurricane Ian, researchers from the Florida Institute of Oceanography and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission have documented a high concentration of Karenia brevis, the organism that causes red tide, off the coast of Southwest Florida. Researchers are keeping an eye on whether it may worsen, similar to how it did after Irma in 2017. While hurricanes do not cause red tide blooms, their heavy rains and winds can move nutrient-rich water that feeds algal blooms into coastal waters.
- A new study from the University of Florida shows that a byproduct of human urine can help with seagrass restoration. When urine is processed at wastewater treatment plants, it results in a crystallized compound called struvite. Struvite contains phosphorous and nitrogen, key nutrients in plant fertilizers. In the study, the seagrass plots treated with struvite performed better and resulted in fewer excess nutrients than plots treated with common fertilizer.
- The Center for Biological Diversity has filed a petition asking the National Marine Fisheries Service to recommend that smalltail and hammerhead sharks be protected under the Endangered Species Act. Both species have seen an 80% population decline in the last 30 years. But the process to enact these federal protections could take a decade or more.
- Miami-Dade County commissioners voted to relocate a boundary that protects wetlands and farms to allow warehouse development. The fields that currently surround the wetland area help to protect the coastline from storm surges. While developers say that the warehouses will bring an economic boon to the area, opponents are concerned about increased flooding, and that the building project may interfere with Everglades restoration.
- In a bid to end oil drilling in Big Cypress National Preserve, a wildlife nonprofit and conservation group is attempting to have the federal government buy the property’s mineral rights. The government purchased the surface rights to the land in the 1970s, but acquiring the mineral rights would enable them to end oil drilling once and for all. WildLandscapes International has quietly negotiated a commitment from the family that owns the land to sell these rights to the government.
- Conservation groups have filed an emergency rulemaking petition to expand protections for the endangered North Atlantic right whale before the start of their birthing season in mid-November. Birthing season leaves these whales particularly vulnerable to boat strikes as their feeding, resting, and socializing behaviors often bring them to the surface of the water. With a current population of just 340 individuals, conservation groups are stressing the importance of implementing new rules that would require boats to slow down, among other things. U.S. senators from Florida and the Carolinas have criticized the measure, saying it is costly and excessive and would cause harm to boaters and fishermen.
- Google Public Sector is partnering with the South Florida Water Management District to deploy a cloud-based technology called Climate Insights, which will use artificial intelligence (AI) to help the agency make more informed water management decisions. A press release from Google says the technology will help “support the availability of drinking water for Florida residents, preserve natural areas, and combat harmful algal blooms, among other important sustainability work.” The South Florida Water Management District is also building a prototype AI model to help more accurately anticipate harmful algal blooms before they occur.
- Following Hurricane Nicole, state inspectors have deemed at least 49 structures, including 24 hotel and condominium buildings in Volusia County, as unsafe. Hundreds of residents were forced to evacuate post-storm and it remains unclear when inspectors will allow them to return.
- A proposed plan to expand the boundaries of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary is now on the desk of federal officials who must consider tens of thousands of public comments – both for and against the proposal—to make their decision. The proposed plan was prompted after a 2011 report cited widespread human-caused environmental changes across the sanctuary, which spans 3,800 square miles. The new plan would add about 1,000 square miles of protected area and create a no-anchor zone around the deep-water reef. If the process to review the plan stays on schedule, it would go into effect in either 2023 or 2024.
- A team led by researchers at the University of South Florida College of Marine Science has found PFAS, commonly known as forever chemicals, in Tampa Bay’s fish and sediment. These chemicals have been phased out of manufacturing for some time, but because they don’t break down in the environment, they continue to cause harm. The highest concentration of the chemicals was found in bottom-dwelling fish like catfish and predatory fish like sea trout, particularly in Old Tampa Bay and Hillsborough Bay. PFAS can have health consequences for humans, but as of now, there are no health guidelines for fish consumption.
- After a record number of manatees died in 2021, the nonprofit group Bear Warriors United has filed a federal lawsuit against the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. The group says the agency violated the Endangered Species Acy by permitting septic tanks and sewage-treatment plants that discharge excess nutrients into the Indian River Lagoon. The lagoon is an important habitat for manatees, but recently, many manatees in the area have died of starvation from a lack of seagrass. The lawsuit alleges that the nutrient discharge from the sewage treatment plants and septic tanks has caused algal blooms that destroy these seagrass beds. This case was at least the third filed in federal court during the past year about manatee protections.
The Good News
- Researchers from the Florida Museum of Natural History have found that despite increasing environmental stressors from climate change, pollution, fishing, tourism, and urban development, echinoderms like sea urchins, sand dollars, and sea biscuits in the Florida Keys have remained abundant. While the reason they are so resilient is still up for debate, scientists agree this is good for the ecosystem. Sea urchins graze on algae within reef systems, while sand dollars and sea biscuits clean and enrich the sediment.
- During a 2009 expedition with the National Geographic Society, marine scientist Enric Sala visited a virtually untouched and vibrant coral reef in the South Pacific Ocean off the island country Kiribati. By visiting this pristine reef, he sought to better understand how to bring corals back to health after being damaged due to climate change. But, between 2015 and 2016, record levels of ocean warming caused mass coral bleaching events worldwide, decimating half of the reef Sala and his team had visited. Expecting the worst, Sala and his team visited the reef again last year and were shocked to see that it had restored itself. The team credits the reef’s resilience to two main factors: the local Kiribati government’s decision to protect the waters from fishing and other activity and the fact that half of the corals survived the bleaching event.
- At the end of the last ice age, Scotland’s wild spaces were home to Highland tigers, wolves, and bears. But over time these animals have been nearly or completely extirpated due to timber harvest, mining for charcoal, and agriculture. By the end of the 20th century, only 5% of Scotland’s land area was covered by forest. Now, the country is making moves to become the first successfully “rewilded” country by implementing a connected matrix of public lands and natural corridors. Rewilding is the process of restoring ecosystems to their natural state and reintroducing keystone species.
Florida Research News
- A team of researchers across the state has received $5.8 million from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture to identify and understand the bacteria that cause bacterial spot disease in tomatoes. These scientists will use molecular tools to differentiate between the different strains of bacteria causing the spots and how they move through the production system. The ultimate goal of the project is to help growers and breeders manage the disease better and identify resistance in a tomato that covers all bacterial strains.
- Termites are a pest to homes and businesses, but these wood decomposers are integral to Earth’s ecosystems and carbon cycle. Termites are vital eco-custodians, breaking down plant matter that would otherwise build up and overwhelm the environment. Termites also process carbon from wood and release it as two key greenhouse gases: methane and carbon dioxide. A new study from the University of South Florida has revealed that because the insects are sensitive to temperature and rainfall, they are expected to migrate into previously unexplored ecosystems as the climate warms. This could have a significant effect on both wood decay and carbon emissions.
Things You Can Do
- A call to action has been made by the United Nations and other global organizations urging individuals to reduce their own carbon footprint. Taking steps to avoid food waste, use alternate transportation, and reduce your energy consumption are all ways to lower your individual environmental impact.
- Do you love coffee and Florida manatees? Thanks to a partnership between the Fish and Wildlife Foundation of Florida and Manatee Gourmet Company, 10% of your coffee purchase will go toward manatee supplemental feeding efforts.
- Americans spend hundreds of millions of dollars on pumpkins every year, just to throw them away when Halloween is over. This means that they end up in landfills, which lack oxygen and were not designed to allow organic matter to break down. This causes the pumpkins to produce methane, a greenhouse gas that can be harmful to the climate. Instead of tossing your pumpkin, think about composting it, using it to cook, leaving it out for wildlife to feed on, or donating it to a farm, zoo, or animal shelter that will accept pumpkins as animal feed.
- A total of $53.4 million has been granted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to support 102 projects that aim to improve air quality in 37 states. Minority communities and those heavily impacted by pollution were given priority for funding. The initiative honors a commitment made by the White House to place a larger focus on environmental justice in historically impacted communities.
- A new study shows that at the current rate of global greenhouse gas emissions, Earth’s temperature will rise 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) in just nine years. According to scientists, reaching this climate change benchmark would have dire repercussions such as extreme weather events and ecosystem collapse. Altering the current trajectory would take a carbon emissions reduction of about 1.4 billion tons per year globally.
- A nonprofit alliance of environmentalist groups, scientists, and tech companies have developed new software that can track global greenhouse gas emissions down to individual power plants, oil fields and cargo ships, through satellite imagery. The data could help advise governments on their climate goals by giving them specific and precise figures about their climate contribution.The world’s current largest greenhouse gas emitters —the United States, China, the European Union, and India — are falling behind on their commitment to reduce emissions and comply with the Paris Agreement. In the most recent COP27, the United Nations Climate conference, there was a set expectation of global cooperation to reduce the impacts of climate change rather than invest in adaptations to the warming climate.
- The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission is looking to lift the ban on harvesting female horseshoe crabs in the Delaware Bay. The ban was originally put in place after the overharvesting of the crabs led to a sharp decline in the populations of migratory birds, like red knots, that depend on crab eggs as a source of food. If the ban were lifted, fishermen from New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia would be allowed to catch 150,000 female horseshoe crabs to use for bait, on top of the 500,000 male crabs they are already allowed to harvest. The commission believes that this quota would not threaten the population of the crabs or the birds that feed on their eggs. Scientists, however, have found that the density of horseshoe crab eggs on the bay’s beaches is only about one-tenth of what it was in the 80s and say any amount of female horseshoe crab harvesting would reduce the already low supply of eggs.
- Over the last decade, the Indian River Lagoon has been experiencing a water quality crisis due to nutrient pollution and harsh algal blooms. In recent years, large-scale seagrass die-offs have resulted in a record-breaking number of manatee deaths. Natural resource managers of the area are confident that through various means of conservation like stormwater management and nutrient level reduction, the lagoon could have an uphill climb towards recovery.
- Many species of vertebrate animals previously thought to be mute have been recorded vocalizing. Among the animals observed were turtles, caecilians, tuataras, and lungfish. Gabriel Jorgewich Cohen, an evolutionary biologist and the main author behind the paper detailing the research, was able to connect the sounds the animals made to a social behavior, suggesting the noises made were intentional. His next focus will be attempting to understand what the animals he studied could be saying.
- Researchers have found that in addition to generating clean energy, wind turbines could help funnel carbon dioxide to machines that remove it from the air. As the turbines rotate, they cause turbulence that pulls the air into the systems behind them and can concentrate enough of the greenhouse gas to make capture possible. Researchers say this would be particularly useful near large cities like Chicago.
- A recent study conducted by researchers at California State University has found that filter-feeding whales are consuming millions of particles of microplastics each day. The study estimates that over a feeding season, these large mammals could ingest over a billion pieces of plastic. These findings also provide insights into how human diets can be affected by microplastics since humans eat many of the same fish as whales.
- Glaciers in the Hindu Kush, Karakoram, and Himalayan mountains have been melting and, in combination with record-breaking monsoons, causing extreme flooding. These floods have killed over 1,000 people, created a public health crisis, and left the country of Pakistan underwater. The melting of these glaciers has also caused many concerns for the 870 million people that use the water from them for drinking, crop irrigation, and electricity. Scientists say that reducing carbon emissions may slow the pace of the melting and buy humans time to come up with solutions.