Feature Story

Why Did the Panther Cross the Road?

Like humans, animals also need to travel from place to place. Wildlife crossings attempt to reduce the harm caused by wildlife-vehicle collisions and help connect fragmented landscapes.

An umbrella term, wildlife crossings refer to the many wildlife-friendly structures that serve the same purpose. These include the various bridges and tunnels that allow animals to cross highways or other human-made barriers safely. The exact design varies depending on the location and target species. Fencing around these structures provides additional barriers between wildlife and roads.

Read more about Florida's many wildlife crossings in this feature story by TESI Environmental Communicator Jessie Moses

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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 July: 
  • Though previously declared eradicated in 1975 and 2021, the invasive giant African land snail is back in the state. The mollusk, which can reach up to eight inches long, was spotted by a Pasco County gardener in June — the first sighting of a live snail since 2017. The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services started a pesticide treatment program and placed a quarantine on a portion of the county, prohibiting the movement of lawn material and yard waste in or out of the county. Like most other invasive species, this snail has no natural predators in the area, can reproduce extremely quickly, and has already cost the state millions of dollars in eradication efforts. A potential human health threat, this species can also carry rat lungworm, a parasite that causes meningitis in humans and animals.
  • A federal lawsuit was recently filed by conservation groups seeking stronger protections for Florida bonneted bats. The endemic species is threatened by rising sea levels and urban sprawl, and the plaintiffs say the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has failed to designate critical habitat for the bats, even though they were listed as endangered in 2013. Areas that are determined as critical habitats require special management and protection plans. The agency did publish a proposed rule in 2020 that would have established the habitat, but it was never finalized.
  • Manatee County recently purchased specialized boats that will help county workers remove dead fish from the water more efficiently after a fish kill. During the red tide algae bloom of 2018, workers removed 450,000 pounds of dead fish from the shore. Engineers have also been testing a new machine called the algae harvester which sits on the shore and sucks water in, separates algae, and returns clean water to the original water body. The algae collected could be used to fertilize plants and crops. These technologies could provide help in a state constantly dealing with multiple types of blooms. Large amounts of macroalgae are currently blooming in Tampa Bay, but environmental officials are still working to better understand the impact on Florida’s waters.
  • One of the most destructive fruit flies has been discovered in Pinellas County. The oriental fruit fly attacks more than 436 different fruits, vegetables, and nuts. The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services placed a quarantine on the county, warning nurseries and households in the area to handle produce carefully and restrict the movement of fruits and vegetables within their property. Additionally, insecticide and bait traps will be used to kill existing flies.
  • The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has approved a permit for an offshore aquaculture demonstration project off the coast of Sarasota. The approval comes after the Corps issued a nationwide permit for finfish aquaculture facilities in an effort to keep up with the country’s seafood demand. Several organizations and groups plan to sue the Corps stating that these types of facilities can harm marine life and potentially increase noise and light pollution.
  • The newest draft of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Restoration Blueprint would add 1,000 square miles to the protected area, increasing the overall size by 25%. The blueprint also adds new zones for coral nurseries and coral transplant areas.
  • During this year’s session, a new state law was passed to clean up per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) found in Florida waters. Often called “forever chemicals” these highly stable manmade chemicals do not naturally degrade, causing them to accumulate in the environment and in living organisms. Now researchers at Florida International University have found that every oyster they sampled in Biscayne Bay, the Marco Island area, and Tampa Bay was contaminated with the substances. Out of the three areas, oysters in Biscayne Bay contained the highest concentrations of contaminants, which scientists believe are also impacting the oyster’s growth. It’s unknown what the risk to human health might be, but the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has recently issued new health advisories surrounding the chemicals in drinking water.
  • In hopes of flushing out excess nutrients and other pollution from the Indian River Lagoon, state lawmakers and the Florida Institute of Technology are looking at a project to create tidal inlets to the water body to help pump in more ocean water. But some fish scientists worry this move could skew the natural balance of the estuary, change the ecology of the lagoon, and negatively impact tarpon and other lagoon-dwelling populations. Scientists with FIT say similar pumping projects have seen success before, and that the project could be one tool in solving this complex puzzle.
  • In 2020, Orange County voters approved a charter amendment created to protect the rights of nature. This legal doctrine aims to prevent development and promote ecosystem conservation by granting personhood status to natural resources, like rivers and lakes. The amendment sparked a lawsuit that would have blocked a housing development over wetlands in the area. Recently, a judge dismissed the suit, stating the amendment is preempted by state law. Now environmental groups say they are planning whether to appeal the judge’s decision.
  • Despite opposition from environmental groups and residents, the Lee County Board of County Commissioners has approved a new development that would include 10,000 homes, 240 hotel rooms, and many commercial businesses. The proposal also includes plans for 3,287 acres of restoration and conservation. The developer originally bought the former citrus grove to establish a large-scale lime rock mine, which the county denied. The developer sued the county, and to settle, the county has approved what residents are calling “another city at the end of Corkscrew Road.” Environmental groups have voiced concern that the development area sits on top of an important groundwater recharge area. Read more about the back story in this commentary by journalist Craig Pittman.
  • A team of researchers led by the University of South Alabama is embarking on an $11.7 million study of greater amberjack fish. According to NOAA Fisheries, the species is overfished despite rebuilding efforts in the Gulf of Mexico, but the population is stable in the South Atlantic. The research team will fit some greater amberjack with acoustic tags that emit signals unique to each fish. These signals are then recorded by underwater listening stations. Other greater amberjack will be fitted with traditional tags. Researchers are asking anglers who catch fish with a traditional tag to call the phone number printed on the tag and return it to the project team along with some recorded data for a reward of $250 per fish. Meanwhile, the FWC plans to ban all fishing within 1,000 feet of three known goliath grouper spawning sites in South Florida from July 15 to October 15 each year.
  • The FWC has made changes to the “Vessel Turn-In Program,” which aims to remove boats that have been abandoned or wrecked in state waters. According to the FWC Division of Law Enforcement captain Travis Franklin, these vessels cause harm to wildlife habitats and raise concern for public safety. The program will now pay for the removal and destruction of the watercraft for those who have received three notices within the past 18 months and don’t owe any money on the boats.
Visit the links below for other environmental stories you may have missed this month!
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Ways to Take Action This Month:

Each week on our @UFEarthSystems Instagram page, our student Environmental Communicators share simple sustainability actions you can incorporate into your everyday routines. Click the images below to learn more. 
Action of the Week: Eco-Friendly Travel
Action of the Week: Sustainable Spring Cleaning
Action of the Week: Sustainably Move Out
Visit our blog posts below to learn more about these topics!

Featured Video:
Nutrient Pollution and Eutrophication

Eutrophication is a big issue in Florida. Fish kills, blue-green algae blooms, and dead zones are some of the problems caused by this phenomenon that you might have heard about in the news.

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 threats to forever chemicals, living shorelines and wildfire risk in Florida. 
Tell Me About: Forever Chemicals in Florida
Tell Me About: Living Shorelines in Florida
Tell Me About: Wildfire Risk 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! 
Critical Habitat: areas that are essential to the conservation of a species listed under the Endangered Species Act
Organic: food grown and processed without the use of any synthetic fertilizers or pesticides
green revolution: a period of increased agricultural production achieved by the use of fertilizers, pesticides and high-yield crop varieties

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!
atlantic bay scallop
common gallinule
weasles and minks


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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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