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:
Hurricane Ian Impacts
People across the state are still recovering after Hurricane Ian made landfall as a Category 4 storm last month, damaging homes and businesses and killing more than 100 people across the U.S. Read below for some of the most recent stories detailing the storm’s impacts.
- Following Hurricane Ian, many Floridians are turning their attention toward more resilient development. Now the state is starting to spend the $1 billion pledged in 2021 as part of Governor DeSantis’ Resilient Florida program to help elevate roads, renovate wastewater pump stations, harden seawalls, and acquire and protect wetlands. Though most say that funding these projects is necessary, some worry that without policy changes to help mitigate the causes of climate change, some of the efforts may be too little too late. However, there are also those who are optimistic that the devastation from Hurricane Ian will encourage better planning and development choices. One town that may set an example is Babcock Ranch which straddles Charlotte and Lee Counties. The “hurricane-resistant” town is entirely solar-powered and has reinforced buildings and underground cable and phone lines. The town withstood Hurricane Ian with minimal damage and no loss of power despite being only 12 miles from Fort Myers which saw significant destruction.
- The Florida citrus industry’s output in the 2021-2022 season was the lowest it’s been in eight decades, and predictions for the 2022-2023 season look even worse. Now, growers have been met with another challenge as Hurricane Ian devastated farms, uprooting trees and stripping others bare of their fruit. An early assessment estimates that the citrus industry suffered losses totaling $300 million from the storm. But citrus isn’t the only crop impacted by the storm. According to the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, losses also included up to $393 million worth of vegetables and melons.
- Hurricane Ian caused some of the highest-ever recorded storm surges in Atlantic basin history, pushing as much as 15 feet of water into Fort Myers according to the National Hurricane Center. The high water contributed to at least 30 drowning fatalities in Lee County alone. Officials have designated Hurricane Ian as a “500-year flood event,” because the storm also brought more than 20 inches of rain to some areas, causing flooding of inland rivers throughout the state. Officials with the National Weather Service say Floridians can expect to see more of this widespread and intense flooding in the future.
- Beekeepers in southwest and central Florida are struggling after Hurricane Ian blew the lids off their hives and drowned their bees. One beekeeper estimates that he lost 30% of his bees in the storm. An organization called Greater Good has donated sugar syrup to the beekeeping community to help the food shortage, as some of the bees have begun to steal honey from each other, which can lead to the death of what is left of their colonies. These bees are important for the agricultural industry and are used all over the country to pollinate crops like cherries, peaches, watermelons, and zucchini.
- Hurricane Ian is estimated to have led to the spilling of millions of gallons of wastewater throughout Florida. In Manatee County alone, 17 million gallons, which is enough to fill 25 Olympic swimming pools, spilled throughout area waters. Weeks after the hurricane made landfall, pollutants including gasoline, fecal matter, decomposing plants and animals, and more are still floating two miles offshore of the Gulf of Mexico. This could have lasting impacts on the community’s water supply and the aquatic life in the area.
- Experts report that Hurricane Ian may be a major contributor to red tide in the Gulf of Mexico as stormwater runoff rife with excess nutrients that fuel algal blooms made its way to the Gulf after the storm. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission recently reported a high concentration of algae that can cause red tide off the coast of Southwest Florida. It has already been several weeks since the storm, but experts say that we could see repercussions for months.
- A study has found that climate change may have added at least 10% more rain to Hurricane Ian. The results fall in line with other studies that demonstrate increased rainfall from storms due to warming temperatures. Studies on the 2020 hurricane season found that during their rainiest periods, these storms were 10% wetter when compared to previous years. As temperatures rise, warmer ocean waters increase evaporation. When hurricanes pass over these warmer waters, increased absorption contributes to heavier rainfall.
- In the aftermath of Hurricane Ian, Florida has seen a doubling in cases of Vibrio vulnificus, a flesh-eating bacteria known to do well in brackish floodwaters. The bacterium has been observed to thrive in sewage spills and has been progressing rapidly due to the flooding Hurricane Ian has caused. It is dangerous, especially to those with suppressed or weak immune systems. The overall risk of Vibrio vulnificus will subside by late October as Florida weather gets cooler.
- In the aftermath of Hurricane Ian, experts predict Florida’s unstable insurance industry could collapse. With insured losses expected to reach $67 billion, researchers worry that as climate change exacerbates the intensity and frequency of natural disasters, home ownership may become out of reach for working-class residents.
- Following flooding from Hurricane Ian, 11 electric vehicles (EVs) caught fire in Collier County. Officials say flooded EVs should be towed away from buildings, and that no flooded car – electric or gas-powered – should be driven until inspected by a professional.
Other Stories to Watch
- Last month, a researcher at the University of Miami witnessed a mass coral bleaching event off the coast of Miami Beach, the first one in the area in seven years. As climate change warms ocean temperatures, corals become stressed and expel the algae that live in their tissue and give them their bright colors. Throughout the world, coral bleaching has become a recurring problem. Currently, the bleaching event is limited to the Miami Beach area, but scientists say that coral health decline can have ripple effects across the ecosystem. Coral bleaching is not always permanent or fatal, though if it persists it can be. The elkhorn and staghorn corals that bleached in this event provide crucial habitat, food, and natural coastal protection from hurricanes. Scientists are taking tissue samples of the corals for genetic analyses that may help to one day provide more heat-resistant coral for replanting.
- After completing their review of the gopher tortoise, the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service determined that those in the eastern portion of the species’ range (including Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, and south Alabama) will not be listed under the Endangered Species Act. Those in the western portion of its range retain their status as a threatened species. As tortoises live in sandy upland forests, logging and development are two of the gopher tortoise’s biggest threats. Some argue that the threat of habitat loss was overlooked in the review. Gopher tortoises are still protected at the state level as a “threatened” Florida species.
- Biscayne Bay has recently suffered another fish die-off. The exact cause of this event is still unknown, but the consensus points to the poor overall health of the bay, which has been exacerbated by several incidents including potential pollution from Little River, the 1.2-million-gallon sewage spill on Miami Beach, and groundwater pollution. A similar fish die-off occurred in 2020, leading Miami’s Waterkeeper Rachel Silverstein to warn the public about declining health of the waterway. Low levels of oxygen were identified as the cause of death of the fish, the same as the previous 2020 die-off event. More data must be collected before determining the exact cause.
- A recent report by the North Atlantic Right Whale Consortium has found that right whale populations are continuing to decline, estimating that only 340 remain in the wild today, down from 348 last year. While the decrease is the smallest decline in six years, experts say the population has still lost 110 individuals in the past five years. Right whales can weigh up to 70 tons and reach lengths of 50 feet, but warming ocean temperatures, vessel collisions, and fishing gear entanglements have put the species on the brink of extinction. In response, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is working on new rules to restrict fisheries and boat speeds.
The Good News
- According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, this year has been a fruitful nesting season for the loggerhead turtles at Naval Station Mayport on Florida’s east coast, with the area’s highest total of nests and hatchlings ever recorded. While the FWC is still collecting data, 2022 has set a record with 53 nests and 3,000 hatchlings. The previous record, made in 2019, accounted for 38 nests from various species and around 2,000 hatchlings.
- Four species of plants and two species of snakes in the Everglades and Florida Keys are under consideration for enhanced federal protections under the Endangered Species Act. The two snake species, the Key ringneck and Rim Rock crowned snake, both face threats from urban sprawl and sea level rise. The proposed protections would designate 2,604 and 5,972 acres of land, respectively, as critical habitat to aid in the conservation of the species. The four proposed plant species – the Everglades bully, Florida pineland crabgrass, pineland sandmat, and Florida prairie-clover – would have critical habitat designated to protect the state’s pine rock lands habitat.
- A record number of invasive Burmese pythons were removed during this year’s annual Python Challenge, according to FWC officials. Nearly 1,000 participants from 32 states, Canada and Latvia successfully removed 231 of the snakes over the 10-day challenge. Burmese pythons are found primarily in and around the Everglades ecosystem in south Florida where they prey on birds, mammals, and other reptiles. Since 2000, more than 17,000 wild Burmese pythons have been removed from the state of Florida.
Florida Research News
- A study led by researchers at Florida International University found that hurricanes have been steadily producing more rain over the last 20 years. Researchers compared 2,000 storms in six of the major oceans from 1998 to 2016 and found that the total precipitation rate has increased by 1% every year due to climate change. Recently, Hurricane Ian produced a record amount of rain, with certain parts of Florida seeing 12 inches of rain in 12-24 hours. The study authors hope to further improve hurricane rainfall predictions that will help officials make potentially lifesaving decisions in the future.
- Researchers from the Water School at Florida Gulf Coast University in partnership with the Florida Institute of Oceanography and the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation have embarked on a voyage to understand how Hurricane Ian has impacted the Gulf. Their goal is to better understand how heavy rainfall and flooding from hurricanes affect local ecosystems and water quality. Researchers suspect that hurricanes stimulate red tide blooms and that Hurricanes Irma and Maria contributed to the large bloom in 2018.
Things You Can Do
- The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has developed a tool that allows anyone to report Sargassum sightings. Users are invited to share pictures and general information (location, date, and description) of current or past Sargassum events that they have witnessed. To do so, simply visit the following link: Sargassum Report
- Good news, candle lovers! According to an article in the Tampa Bay Times, candle jars can be recycled in two easy steps. First, freeze the wax. This will shrink the wax and allow you to pop it out of the jar. Second, remove any contents from the jar and dry it out before recycling.
- The World Wildlife Fund and the Zoological Society of London released a new report detailing that the world’s animal populations shrunk by an average of 69% over the past 50 years. This loss of biodiversity is attributed to human activities that involve the use of land, like deforestation and infrastructure development. If the increase in global temperatures is not limited to 1.5 degrees Celsius, climate change may become the leading cause of biodiversity loss in the future.
- The western United States has experienced a record-breaking heatwave over the last summer, reaching upwards of 110°F in some areas. Heat waves are the deadliest weather disasters, causing more deaths than all other weather phenomena combined. In recent years, climate change has caused more frequent and severe heatwaves, leading millions of people across several countries to experience debilitating temperatures. New research shows that humans are not as resistant to heat as previously thought, which is particularly worrisome for outdoor workers. Researchers are studying methods to reduce heat and have found that planting shade trees in urban areas can be a helpful strategy.
- The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is considering designating the rare ghost orchid as an endangered species. Around the globe, ghost orchid populations have plummeted by 90%, and only 1,500 ghost orchid plants were documented in Florida as of early 2022. Poaching, habitat degradation, and climate change have led to the decline of the species, which serves as an important food source for some moths. The USFWS has until January 2023 to decide.