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graphic with newspaper and text "florida's environment: 13 stories to watch"
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 September: 
  • Hundreds of dead fish washed up on Miami Beach in early September as Biscayne Bay again suffered the effects of nutrient pollution caused by septic tank waste, fertilizer and excess pet waste making its way into Florida waterways. Rising sea levels and warming temperatures are exacerbating the problem, which Miami-Dade's chief bay officer says is “a new normal.”  
     
  • Clean water is a big driver of tourism in the state, but this summer the state’s waterways have seen their fair share of problems. More than 100,000 gallons of wastewater leaked from a pipe in St. Petersburg last month, and another 350,000 gallons were released in Panama City as Florida’s pollution predicaments continue. Officials say another wastewater release could be possible at the Piney Point site near Tampa as an independent receiver takes control of the former phosphate plant.  
     
  • The red tide bloom that seemingly disappeared after Hurricane Ida now stretches from the Panhandle to Charlotte County. Scientists say this nearly yearlong red tide is an example of how manmade nutrient pollution is causing longer-lasting, more intense blooms. Researchers are testing a method known as clay flocculation to kill red tide cells. A mixture of clay particles and seawater is sprayed onto the red tide algae, making the red tide cells heavier and heavier until they sink to the seafloor. Preliminary testing of the method in a controlled environment resulted in between 80% to 90% of red tide cells being removed. But researchers are still studying how the clay could possibly impact marine food webs.
     
  • Sugar growers have sued the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers over plans for a massive Everglades reservoir that is intended to help revive marshes and the Florida Bay. The project is part of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP), which was authorized by Congress in 2000. The sugar growers argue that the reservoir and an attached stormwater treatment marsh will violate a rule in the CERP that requires the Corps to maintain water supplies to farms as it works to restore marshes. But the Corps maintains that it will be able to balance water supply for the environment and farmers.
     
  • Following helicopter surveys of Everglades National Park, wildlife officials worry that time may be running out for the Cape Sable seaside sparrow. This year, no sparrows were found in Shark River Slough, which previously held the largest population of the species and the only nest that was found ultimately failed. There is hope that Everglades restoration will increase the sparrow’s prairie habitat, but much of the park’s western border has converted to inhospitable sawgrass and repairing it will take a decade or more. 
     
  • Lake Okeechobee is in crisis following the collapse of 12,000 acres of submerged vegetation. A new lake water management plan that determines ideal water levels for various water users is timed to launch in late 2022. After repairs to the Herbert Hoover Dike are completed, the lake will be able to hold more water without threatening the structure’s integrity. But higher water levels could block sunlight and kill the underwater meadows. Experts worry that high water levels will occur too often for underwater plants to recover in the interim.
     
  • In early September, the Orlando Utilities Commission reminded customers to be frugal with water as the uptick in COVID-19 cases led to a shortage of liquid oxygen. Liquid oxygen is used to purify water and to remove the rotten egg smell caused by sulfur. The commission asked its customers to limit irrigating lawns and landscapes to help prevent impacts to water quality caused by the liquid oxygen shortage. 
     
  • Miami-Dade County rejected a $4.6 billion U.S. Army Corps of Engineers plan to build flood walls and gates around Biscayne Bay — opting to instead devise its own plan to protect neighborhoods from hurricane storm surge. The move followed criticism that the barriers could harm ecologically important seagrass and other marine life. The original plan was to be sent to Congress for approval in time for the 2022 Water Resources Development Act, but this decision has sent the Corps back to the drawing board. 
     
  • A proposed offshore finfish farm plans to continue with its demonstration pen in federal waters off the coast of southwest Florida despite a ruling that prohibits the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) from granting a permit. Proponents of the farm say the decision simply means one less permit and less regulation of what they believe to be a potential new industry in the Gulf. The farm is currently awaiting a permit from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Opponents of the finfish farm worry about the farm’s environmental impacts like pollution from fish waste. 
     
  • Nikki Fried, Florida’s commissioner of agriculture and consumer services, announced a new initiative to phase out the use of polystyrene, or Styrofoam, in Florida grocery stores and businesses. During a visit to Sarasota in late September, Fried said chemicals within polystyrene have been linked to various health effects like hearing loss, birth defects and cancer. Fried added that because the material takes more than 500 years to decompose, the effects linger even after products are thrown away. The initiative is currently in the rulemaking phase. 
     
  • Recently, Governor Ron DeSantis announced more than $53 million in new funding to help clean the waters of the ailing Indian River Lagoon. The funds will be used for 13 projects which include the elimination of 3,000 septic tanks and an update to three sewage treatment plants that will allow them to remove more nutrients that spur algal blooms. 
     
  • In June, the controversial plan to extend State Road 836/Dolphin Expressway across the Everglades wetlands was put back on the table. Governor DeSantis and his Cabinet rejected a judge’s order that found the expressway did not follow state growth laws. Now, opponents of the roadway extension plan to make an appeal, arguing that should the project go forward, a dangerous precedent would be set for the state. 
     
  • An analysis conducted by the nonprofit Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) suggests the Florida Department of Protection was especially lenient in 2020 when it came to enforcing the state’s environmental laws. DEP officials rejected the report, saying no changes were made last year.  
     
Visit the links below for other environmental stories you may have missed this month!
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Action of the Month:
Green Your Office Space

desk with plant next to it

Let’s set the scene. You’ve been working in the same office or at the same desk at home for almost a year now. Your workspace is starting to look increasingly uninviting and working at it has become less and less enjoyable. How does one go from resenting their workspace to reveling in it? One solution: add an office plant!

Learn more about this and other ways to "green" your office space in our September Action of the Month

 

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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. 

Feature Story

To be a Floridian is to know hurricanes. If you live in Florida, you probably have an evacuation plan ready and a pantry full of unperishable goods. While you may experience hurricane season yearly, sometimes it's easy to get confused about certain words and images used by weather forecasters to communicate a storm's path, intensity and potential impact.

Read on to keep up-to-date on hurricane terms, symbols, measurement instruments, current research and more!

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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 sea level rise, stony coral tissue loss disease and wetland mitigation banking in Florida. 
photo of diseased coral with text "tell me about: stony coral tissue loss disease in florida"
photo of florida coastline with text "tell me about sea level rise in florida"
photo of florida cypress trees in river with text "tell me about: wetland mitigation banking 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! 
photo of florida panther with text "what's the word? Wildlife corridor"
photo of satellite image of hurricane with text "what's the word? cone of uncertainty"
photo of mushrooms with text "what's the word? mycoremediation"
photo of clams with text "what's the word? aquaculture"

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. Click the images below for fun Florida facts for this month!
photo of mushroom with text "chicken of the sea"
photo of butterfly with text "giant swallowtail"
photo of flamingo with text "are flamingoes really native to FL?"

TESI News

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

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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.

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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