Feature Story

Even if you don't know much about trees, you've likely noticed how they keep our surroundings cooler. Think back to a hot summer day in Florida: where would you rather hang out to keep cool – a sunny sidewalk or an area shaded by tree canopy? Perhaps without realizing it, we all gravitate toward trees.  

Yet deforestation and forest degradation are leading to a loss in tree cover in Florida and across the globe. In the midst of climate change, restoration efforts are aiming to restore the ability of these forests to store our carbon dioxide emissions and slow the rate of global warming.  

But the trees can’t do it alone. 

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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 below to see what we found for June: 
  • A controversial Lake Okeechobee water bill has been vetoed by Gov. Ron DeSantis. Environmental groups that opposed SB 2508 said the bill would have prioritized farmers getting water from Lake Okeechobee over water being sent south to the Everglades. In his veto letter, DeSantis wrote, “SB 2508 still creates unnecessary and redundant regulatory hurdles which may compromise the timely execution and implementation of Everglades restoration projects, water control plans and regulation schedules.”
  • A recent analysis of water data from 2016-2021 by the TCPalm found that all 32 water basins surrounding Lake Okeechobee have exceeded the phosphorus limit, with one reaching up to 22 times the state pollution limit. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) oversees the state’s Basin Management Action Plans (BMAPs), which are intended to reduce pollution. Within the BMAPs are rules, or best management practices, for farmers to follow, such as avoiding nutrient-heavy fertilizer. However, the analysis showed that although the DEP has the authority to issue fines and file lawsuits against those who do not comply, it has never done either in the five years the program has been enforceable. Excessive fertilizer use drives much of the pollution in Florida’s waterways and has led to toxic algal blooms and seagrass die-off among other issues.
  • Florida's citrus production is the lowest its been in eight decades. The past two decades have seen a downward trend in citrus production due to residential and commercial development, imports, and citrus greening. An incurable bacterial disease – citrus greening is one of the biggest threats to the U.S. citrus industry. Recently, a judge ordered the Florida Department of Agriculture to pay a $1.2 million compensation to a local commercial nursery after a jury determined that the department had destroyed more than 160,000 citrus trees in the 2000s while trying to stop the spread of citrus greening. The department argued that the nursery could have avoided the crop loss by putting the trees in greenhouses.
  • A deal has been reached with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to rethink what is considered critical habitat for Florida manatees. This deal will require the USFWS to revise current critical habitat designations to include waterways that are frequented by manatees by September 12, 2024. Areas that are determined as critical habitats require special management and protection plans. The settlement comes after a lawsuit filed earlier in the year by environmental groups after a record-breaking number of 1,101 manatee deaths last year.
  • Last year, the state passed legislation requiring the DEP to conduct a vulnerability study and set aside millions of dollars for new infrastructure projects meant to protect Floridians from worsening sea level rise and flooding. A new piece of legislation recently signed into law by Gov. DeSantis will solidify the state’s Chief Resilience Officer position and require a statewide resilience plan. While the new legislation includes measures to mitigate impacts from sea level rise, environmental groups point out it doesn’t address cutting our fossil fuel emissions, which is the root cause of climate change.
  • Inspired by M-34, a 3-year-old black bear that wandered the dangerous path of I-4, a new wildlife underpass is being built beneath the highway between Tampa and Orlando with funding from the Florida Wildlife Corridor Act. With 287 bears and 21 panthers dying on the road last year, wildlife crossings can help species safely migrate throughout the state. Researchers from the University of Central Florida say more land still needs to be preserved around I-4 so animals can reach the crossing.
  • Researchers and storm analysts are making use of new drone and satellite technology to help make more accurate hurricane forecasts, which can improve disaster response. Meanwhile, scientists are proposing two alternative hurricane indexes to the currently used Saffir-Simpson scale, which is based solely on wind speeds. Scientists say the Integrated Kinetic Energy Scale and the Cyclone Damage Potential Index could help provide a more realistic picture of the various dangers of a potential storm, like storm surge and tornadoes. In other hurricane news, new legislation signed by Gov. DeSantis will provide a sales-tax exemption for storm wind-resistant windows and doors for two years. The Department of Financial Services will also be providing grants up to $10,000 under the “My Safe Florida Home” grant, but it is unclear when homeowners will be able to apply.
  • Newly passed federal legislation will create a task force responsible for developing solutions to control blue-green algae blooms in Biscayne Bay, Florida Bay, the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries, and the Indian River Lagoon. The group would have 540 days to submit a plan to President Biden. Florida’s statewide blue-green algae task force, which was developed in 2019, has made recommendations to the state previously. The Florida Department of Health has recently issued health alerts for blue-green algae in three Polk County lakes in South Central Florida and one Marion County lake in North Central Florida. Blooms have also been spotted in multiple Cape Coral canals, Lake Okeechobee, and the Caloosahatchee River. Meanwhile, red tide has started to bloom in background concentrations in the Indian River Lagoon.
  • The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has issued new health advisories for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in drinking water. Otherwise known as “forever chemicals,” these highly stable manmade chemicals do not naturally degrade, causing them to accumulate in the environment and in living organisms. The chemicals have been linked to infertility, thyroid problems and certain types of cancer. Previous health advisories set the safe exposure limit to 70 parts per trillion, but new advisories limit that number drastically – setting a lifetime exposure limit to 0.004 and 0.02 parts per trillion for PFOA and PFOS respectively. Meanwhile, scientists at the University of Florida have found traces of PFAS nearly everywhere in the imperiled Indian River Lagoon. Military bases, firefighter training facilities, and airports are among the largest contributors to PFAS pollution in Florida due to the use of PFAS in fire suppressant foam.
  • The EPA has approved a permit for an offshore aquaculture demonstration project off the coast of Sarasota. The agency had previously withheld final approval until the project team could clarify whether fish waste would degrade the water. The proposed demonstration project would operate one cage at a depth of 130 feet and house up to 20,000 almaco jack. Ocean Era is still awaiting a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which it expects to receive in the next couple of months. The project, originally funded by Florida Sea Grant in 2017, is the first and only so far to take advantage of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Gulf Aquaculture Plan, but it has received pushback from several environmental groups that worry about how the fish farm will impact water quality. In late June, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration opened public comment on nine other potential aquaculture sites in the Gulf of Mexico.
  • After vocal opposition, Miami city commissioner Joe Carolla has dropped his proposed ordinance to outlaw planting mangroves and tall plants at city parks, a measure that was originally proposed to protect waterfront views. Environmental advocates emphasized the protection mangroves provide against storm surge and other impacts from rising sea levels in South Florida. As a response to the increased risk of flooding due to climate change and sea level rise, the South Florida Water Management District has begun to improve its flood control system, beginning with two massive coastal pump stations.
  • The controversy over the proposed extension of the Florida Turnpike continued at a recent Sumter County commission meeting. About 50 people were in attendance to protest the extension and two people were removed from the meeting. Opponents of the project argued that pollution from the extension would damage vital ecosystems including the Rainbow River and Marjorie Harris Carr Cross Florida Greenways corridor, damage ecotourism and agriculture industries, and shave off half of Royal, one of the oldest Black communities in the state. Supporters view the extension as a potential economic boost — providing new construction jobs and further housing development in struggling rural areas. Several counties that would be impacted by the expansion have already endorsed a “No Build” position.
Visit the links below for other environmental stories you may have missed this month!
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Action of the Month:
Set Your Sustainability Goal

As you reflect upon your goals, consider the role sustainability is playing in your life. What changes could you make? Are you contributing in a way that aligns with your values? Even one simple adjustment can make a huge difference.  

In this June Action of the Month, we encourage you to review our Action of the Month from the past several months. Pick one or two that resonate with you most and try them out! What will you work on this summer to become a greener member of your community? 

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Earth to Florida's Action of the Month is produced in collaboration with the UF Office of Sustainability. If you’d like to learn more about sustainability at UF, follow Sustainable UF on Instagram or Facebook!
Like our Action of the Month column? Visit our Instagram page for weekly actions you can take for the betterment of the planet. 

Featured Video:
Participate in Plastic-Free July

Plastic Free July® is a global movement that helps millions of people be part of the solution to plastic pollution. Learn more about easy habits you can change to reduce your plastic footprint!

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What We're Reading

Environmental protection and social justice are deeply intertwined, and we cannot accurately communicate the environmental issues facing our state without acknowledging this relationship. In this monthly Earth to Florida segment, we will share articles and videos that help explain these connections.

Tell Me About

Tell Me About is a weekly series on TESI's Instagram channel that explains environmental topics facing Florida and why they matter. Click the images below to learn more about threats to mangroves,sea turtle tumors and hurricane activity in Florida. 
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What's the Word?

When reading environmental news, you may hear a lot of buzzwords. Our What's the Word Instagram series helps define terms you may come across while reading stories. Click the images below to learn more! 

Know Your Florida

Want to impress your friends with all you know about our beautiful state? Follow us on Instagram @KnowYourFlorida and get to know your state’s natural history and outdoor wonders. Click the images below for fun Florida facts for this month!


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About the Institute

Started in 2018, the mission of the UF Thompson Earth Systems Institute is to advance communication and education about Earth systems science in a way that inspires Floridians to be effective stewards of our planet. 
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About Earth to Florida

Each month, a student-led team at the UF Thompson Earth Systems Institute curates Florida's environmental news and puts it into context by explaining what’s going on, why it matters and what we can do about it. We hope you enjoy this month's sampling.

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