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Feature Story

Perhaps one of the most emblematic species of Florida's changing environment is the endangered Everglades snail kite. Our changing planet has allowed these birds of prey to find an abundance of food outside their normal range of habitat. In fact, the snail kite was recently observed nesting north of Orlando for the first time in 100 years.

Hurricanes, changing water levels, and habitat degradation can impact the bird's nomadic behavior, making it a perfect example of how wildlife can help us take the pulse of our planetary health.

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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 May: 
  • As development persists, habitat for gopher tortoises is dwindling in Florida. After a settlement with the Center for Biological Diversity this week, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service must determine by September 30 if gopher tortoises in Florida and surrounding states should be listed as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act. The announcement of the settlement came after recent steps by Florida wildlife officials and lawmakers to increase the sites where these tortoises can be moved, including a bill that would, in part, direct state agencies to consider designating some public lands as “recipient” sites for the species.
     
  • A deadly strain of avian influenza has made its way to the Tampa Bay area, killing numerous Florida birds. So far, the virus is only known to have infected wild birds in the state, but the outbreak could potentially reach domesticated turkeys and chickens. Experts say this strain does not appear to pose a threat to humans.
     
  • In 2021 more manatees died than in any other year on record, but now Florida is set to spend $30 million on recovery efforts, including improving manatee access to the springs. Some funds will also be used for rescue and rehabilitation as well as aerial surveys to track and monitor the species.
     
  • A controversial bill regarding the management of water levels in Lake Okeechobee is awaiting approval from Governor DeSantis, but many are asking him to veto it. Environmental groups such as Friends of the Everglades have been outspoken about their opposition to the bill, arguing that it would create water management rules that favor the sugar industry at the expense of surrounding estuaries. But supporters say the bill helps ensure a stable water supply for municipalities even during a drought. The governor has until June 30 to sign, veto, or allow Senate Bill 2508 to pass into law without his signature.
     
  • Governor Ron DeSantis has pledged to spend $14 million to manage red tide in Florida, much of which will go toward recovery in the Tampa Bay area, as well as the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute at the University of South Florida, and Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota.
     
  • The Florida Communities Trust approved plans for a toll road through the Split Oak Forest, currently a protected woodland. The forest, located in central Florida, has been protected since the 1990s and provides habitat for several imperiled species, including the gopher tortoise. Friends of Split Oak, a local nonprofit organization, is currently considering legal options.
     
  • Gov. Ron DeSantis has vetoed a bill that would have changed the rules for rooftop solar energy. The bill would have regulated net-metering, an incentive that allows rooftop solar owners to receive bill credits in exchange for sending excess energy back to electric utility companies. Had it passed, the rate of the credits that solar owners receive would have been significantly reduced which critics of the bill said could have reduced homeowners’ and businesses’ interest in adopting rooftop solar energy.
     
  • A new study from First Street Foundation suggests that the risk of wildfires could double by midcentury. Because Florida is highly developed, more property is vulnerable than in many other states. First Street has also created a tool to help property owners assess fire risk. Currently, areas in South Florida near the eastern border of the Everglades face the biggest risk.
     
  • Nearly $20 million in grant funding will be awarded through the Resilient Florida Program to support risk assessment for impacts from sea level rise, storm surge and rainfall events. The funds will be distributed across 98 projects throughout the state, with a majority in coastal areas. Out of Florida’s 67 counties, Miami-Dade will receive the largest number of project grants. The governor also signed a bill that will create a new Statewide Office of Resilience to address the impacts of flooding and sea level rise on the state.
     
  • A study led by the Tampa Bay Estuary Program found that excess nutrients from the 2021 wastewater leak at Piney Point likely made red tide worse. The study found that the water leaking from the former phosphate processing facility released a year’s worth of algae-fueling nutrients in just 10 days. Now, researchers from the University of South Florida are using remote sensors to better understand the movement of water so they can track where nutrients might end up. In early May, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection approved a plan to speed up the closure of the plant. Explore our timeline to learn more about the long and troubled history of the site.
     
  • A political committee called Florida's Right to Clean Water has proposed a constitutional amendment to make clean and healthy water a fundamental right for Floridians. The measure would allow lawsuits against state agencies for any harm to the state’s waterways. To make it on the 2024 ballot, the committee needs 891,589 petition signatures by February 2023.
     
  • Lyngbya, a type of blue-green algae commonly known as “gumbo algae” has made an appearance in Sarasota Bay waters. Locals say small Lyngbya blooms are typical every few years. But this year, the bloom spans several thousand acres. Mats of the thick algae can make it hard for seagrass below to photosynthesize and grow, and can get caught in boat motors. Once the algae starts to decay, it emits a foul smell, which can turn tourists away.
     
  • A 47-foot male sperm whale was found stranded in the shallow waters of Mud Keys, a group of islands north of Key West, where it later died. According to necropsy results, large amounts of fishing line, net material and plastic bag material were found in the whale’s stomach. Scientists say the debris may have made it difficult for the whale, who appeared emaciated, to digest food and absorb nutrients. Sperm whales are typically spotted roaming in deep waters offshore. Just a few weeks prior to this stranding, a female sperm whale calf was found stranded in Key Largo – results from that necropsy are still pending.
  • A viral video showing people dumping balloons into Biscayne Bay has sparked a petition to ban balloons from state waters. Florida law currently prohibits the release of more than 10 balloons in a 24-hour period. Two people were arrested and are facing felony charges for willful and reckless disregard for the environment. Multiple other people and event organizers were fined more than $25,000.
     
  • A special session of the Florida Legislature convened on Monday, May 23 to address the state’s worsening property insurance crisis. In a state rife with natural disasters and claims fraud, property insurers are leaving the state in droves, leaving Floridians to find coverage elsewhere at rates up to 50% higher. This week lawmakers are working to secure billions of dollars prior to the start of hurricane season for a reinsurance fund. Without reinsurance, or “insurance for insurance companies,” insurers say they won’t have enough money to cover payouts for catastrophic events.
Visit the links below for other environmental stories you may have missed this month!
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Action of the Month:
Ease Your Eco-Anxiety

People who are concerned about climate change, environmental degradation, and other sustainability challenges may be experiencing what is called eco-anxiety. This can include emotions of grief and guilt and the sensation of hopelessness that create a complex feeling, though it differs from person to person. 

For the May Action of the Month, identify, cope with, and use eco-anxiety by learning how we can reframe it. We will explore a few tools to mitigate anxiety and promote meaningful action at the same time.

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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:
Planet-Friendly Hurricane Prep

Preparing for a major storm can be stressful. News outlets and government agencies release hurricane-supply checklists to help you weather the storm. But how can you minimize waste while making sure you are ready for a hurricane? Watch this video for some tips!

Learn more about Earth systems-related topics through our other student-produced educational videos!

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 sea turtle populations, water hyacinth, urban sprawl and Everglades restoration in Florida. 
Visit our blog posts below to learn more about these topics!
Learn more about Earth systems-related topics through our other student-produced educational videos! (Great for classrooms!)

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!

TESI News

To keep up with our Institute's news and events, subscribe to our TESI newsletter.

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.

If you know someone interested in subscribing, they can do so at: http://bit.ly/EarthtoFL

Have feedback for our team? Email earthsystems@floridamuseum.ufl.edu

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