The legislative session came to a delayed end on Monday, March 14 as lawmakers approved a $112 billion state budget, the state’s biggest budget ever. The budget includes $200 million for a Resilient Florida grant program to provide local governments with funds for climate resiliency projects, $100 million for Everglades restoration and $27 million for manatee rescue and rehabilitation.
Prior to the start of this year's session, our student-led team sifted through thousands of bills to find those that pertained to our state’s environment. For some, we talked to policy experts and scientists to provide context about how the proposed legislation might impact our state. Find out which bills passed in our update: What Happened in the 2022 Florida Legislative Session
Action of the Month:
Find Seasonal Produce Near You!
Though many out-of-season options appear in stores year-round, choosing in-season produce as much as possible can have environmental benefits, positively affect local farmers and bring more nutritionally-dense food to your plate this spring.
The good news is that there are lots of methods to learn about seasonal produce patterns wherever you are living and shopping. Taking this simple action allows you to support and encourage local, in-season foods that have a lower environmental impact. In this Action of the Month, we will help you discover everything you need to know to find seasonal produce near you!
Like our Action of the Month column? Visit our Instagram page for weekly actions you can take for the betterment of the planet.
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 months of February and March:
A new law allows certain Florida waterways to be designated as special protection zones. Commissioners in Hernando County have jumped at the opportunity and applied for a protection zone on the Weeki Wachee River. If the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission approves, the zone will prohibit anchoring, mooring, beaching, and grounding of watercraft on the river. Crowding and degradation issues have been a hot topic for the Weeki Wachee River in recent years, and many hope this protection zone will aid the river's recovery.
A new study completed by researchers at the University of Miami and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration found that stony coral tissue loss disease can persist in sediment and contribute to the infection of healthy coral. These findings explain how the deadly outbreak has been spreading rapidly throughout Florida’s coral reefs for the last seven years. The scientists involved hope that managers can use the findings to mitigate the further spread of the disease during coastal construction activities, like dredging.
A 1990 ban on goliath grouper harvest in state waters is being lifted by the FWC, but with several limits and guidelines. However, the ban in federal waters will remain. While restrictions for the goliath grouper are loosening, restrictions on the popular dolphin fish, or mahi-mahi, are tightening.
A juvenile population of giant manta rays, designated a threatened species in 2018, has been discovered in South Florida and the federal government is drawing up plans for their protection. While the main threats are in the Pacific Ocean, the protection of this South Florida population is of critical importance as the area serves as a refuge for the species. A draft of the recovery plan is expected later this year, detailing specific areas of critical habitat that must be protected.
Florida is set to receive the largest amount of money allocated to climate change protection in the state’s history. A total of $404 million was granted by the federal American Rescue Plan, and $270 million in state money was granted toward other related projects. The funds will go toward 113 projects to install stormwater pumps, elevate and floodproof buildings, convert septic tanks to sewer and restore wetlands. A report from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change states that climate change is already affecting Florida — dying coral reefs, algae blooms and sea level rise are projected to cause economic ramifications for the state. Rising temperatures can also be blamed for a longer allergy season.
The Indian River Lagoon is one of the most biodiverse estuaries on the continent, but it received a failing grade on a new report from the Marine Resources Council. While water quality has improved, there is an alarming drop in the quantity of seagrass — what the MRC calls the “essence of life in the lagoon.” As a result, MRC Director Lisa Souto is calling for expanded testing. Herbicides, PFAS and other chemicals that may contribute to seagrass loss are not currently included in testing done by the state.
A new study from The Environmental Integrity Project finds that Florida has more lakes that are too polluted for swimming or aquatic life than any other state in the nation. Lake Okeechobee, which covers 450,000 square acres, is the largest contributor to the findings.
Cleaning up the Piney Point facility, the site of a 215-million-gallon wastewater leak that flowed into Tampa Bay last year, may take longer than expected, officials say. While an injection well that would pump polluted water deep underground may be finished by this fall, closing the site completely could take three years or more. In the meantime, strong rainfall or hurricanes could raise the water level and continue to pose problems.
Failing to take down the Rodman Dam in Putnam County to restore the natural flow of the Ocklawaha River would be a “dam shame” according to a new report from Florida Tax Watch, a government watchdog group. The report states that restoring the river “stands to add an annual benefit of $9.1 million upon completion of the project.” Environmental activists around the state have championed removing the dam for years, and the Florida Times-Union reports that “77 percent of likely voters in Putnam and Marion counties supported breaching the dam.”
Federal environmental officials are expecting the EPA to approve an emergency use authorization of a pesticide aimed at targeting the insect responsible for spreading Florida's citrus greening disease. The EPA has approved this pesticide's usage for the past eight years to fight another greening-causing insect. However, some argue that this pesticide would be detrimental for bees, a critical pollinator for citrus and numerous other plants. New research on these types of pesticides may also indicate a negative impact on human health.
South Florida environmental organizations plan to file a lawsuit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for failing to provide adequate preservation land for the Florida bonneted bat, an endangered and endemic species. Given Florida's environmental issues, such as sea level rise, pesticide use, and urban development, the groups argue habitat protection is of utmost importance to keep this species from becoming extinct and propose a 10.5-million-acre critical habitat for doing so.
Much like hurricanes, no red tide is the same. But unlike tropical cyclones, there is not a uniform scale to measure exactly how bad a red tide is and how it compares to previous years. A team of eight algal bloom researchers recently published a study that establishes a scale for measuring a bloom’s duration, reach and intensity. The authors hope the new tool can help local governments better prepare for clean-up efforts.
According to NOAA, sea levels around Miami Beach are set to rise by about 15 inches by the year 2050. Rainy days, high tides and rising groundwater have already been contributing to nuisance flooding in the region, leading some cities to raise the roads and install stormwater pumps. But, as sea levels continue to rise, road raising projects are receiving scrutiny. Residents and business owners are particularly concerned that the raised roads will increase floodwater runoff to low-lying areas, and thereby worsen flooding in already affected properties.
With the aid of students at the University of South Florida, 12 municipalities in the greater Tampa Bay area have begun tracking their carbon footprints in an effort to make their local governments more energy efficient. The effort is in collaboration with Audubon Florida representatives and trainers from ICLEI-Local Governments for Sustainability, a network of over 2,500 local governments looking to improve sustainable urban development. The students will track emission data that can be used by participating municipalities when drafting climate change resiliency plans.
Federal officials from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission have backstepped their decision to allow the Turkey Point Power Plant in Miami to operate for another 30 years. The Commission has instead issued a review of potential environmental risks associated with the plant. New hearings will be held by the commission after updated environmental impact statements are completed for the site.
Visit the links below for other environmental stories you may have missed this month!
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 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 freshwater springs in Florida.
Visit our blog posts below to learn more about this topic!
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, your nature, your history – your Florida. See below for a fun fact from this month.
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.