Dear readers,

As we kick off 2022, we would like to reflect back on some of the insightful feature stories written last year by our student-led team. These pieces examine various environmental justice issues, explore what lies ahead for the longleaf pine, explain algal bloom and pollution problems, and more. We invite you to catch up below if you haven't yet had the chance to read them.

As always, we have curated the environmental news stories around the state that you may have missed. And don't forget to check out our Action of the Month, which was produced in collaboration with the UF Office of Sustainability. Stay tuned next month for our annual Florida legislative issue where you will learn about introduced bills in the 2022 session and what they might mean for Florida's environment if passed.
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 January: 
  • Kennedy Space Center plans to set aside 134 acres of land to make up for the wetlands it intends to fill in the process of new construction. This process, known as wetland mitigation banking, is used to ensure "no-net-loss" of wetlands. However, many opponents of mitigation banking argue the restored wetlands are often not of equal quality and biodiversity as the original wetlands. Florida has lost approximately 40% of its wetlands since 1845.
  • The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced that it is considering stripping protections from two of Florida's endangered species: the Florida panther and the Key deer. The agency is looking to possibly change the taxonomy of the panther, due to a long-standing debate on whether the Florida panther is truly a distinct subspecies from other panthers in the U.S. Despite worsening threats caused by rising sea levels, habitat fragmentation and plans for expanded drilling in the Big Cypress National Preserve, both species are being targeted for a status change.
  • The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is developing a set of guidelines intended to help developers, planners and elected officials minimize impacts to four protected bird species. The protected birds include the American oystercatcher, black skimmer, least tern and snowy plover. According to FWC, these beach-nesting birds are threatened due to challenges such as habitat loss, incompatible management, disturbance and predators. The guidelines are part of a larger effort to protect all 59 species in the agency’s overall species management plan.
  • In Florida, trees can be essential for providing shade, reducing air pollution and offsetting rising temperatures, especially in urban environments. A new analysis of the canopy in Tampa set to be released this year has city officials concerned. They expect to see a decline in the number of trees in the city. Officials point to a 2019 law that shifted tree-removal decision-making power from the local government to the state as driving the potential losses.
  • A total of seven tornadoes touched down in one day in Southwest Florida this month. While the link between twisters and climate change still isn’t fully understood, Florida meteorology experts say a higher prevalence of storms, and whirling weather events like these in the state, could be tied to these global disruptions.
  • Florida agricultural producers must follow Best Management Practices to ensure that they limit how much fertilizer (and nutrients like phosphorus and nitrogen) they release into the environment. ABC-WFTS Tampa Bay found that out of thousands of violation cases since 2019, only two have resulted in enforcement cases with potential penalties of $200,000. Some stakeholders wonder if the agency is doing enough to ensure agriculture producers are complying with pollution rules.
  • Last summer, 215 million gallons of polluted wastewater from a former phosphate mine were released into Tampa Bay to mitigate a leak at the Piney Point reservoir pond in Manatee County. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection has now authorized a permit to build an injection well that would store the remaining wastewater underground. The move has drawn criticism from environmental groups and other state stakeholders. According to the Sarasota Herald Tribune, the review of the permit proposal “included 12 requests for additional information and approximately 7,356 public comments.” Florida Power and Light is also seeking permission to install injection wells to hold wastewater from the Turkey Point nuclear power plant in Miami.
  • Recently released data shows that this year’s crop of Florida oranges will be the smallest since 1945. In recent years, Florida oranges have been threatened by citrus greening – a bacterial disease that slowly suffocates trees and causes them to bear small and unpalatable fruit. Researchers from the University of Florida are attempting to mitigate effects and prevent the spread of the disease, but research is still in early stages. According to the USDA’s report, orange juice prices are expected to increase by about 10% as a result.
  • The Everglades are set to receive an unprecedented $1.1 billion of federal funding, which will be put toward restoration efforts, including wetland restoration, efforts to prevent algal blooms and sending clean water to the Florida Keys.
  • A record number of manatees died in Florida in 2021: 1,101. As the winter slogs on, officials are worried about cold weather further harming manatees. Three conservation groups have also threatened to sue the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency if it doesn’t take steps to protect manatees from water pollution – another root cause of many problems facing the gentle giants. To help the sea cows, state wildlife officials set up a supplemental feeding station in Brevard County. After a slow start, the manatees have begun taking advantage of the romaine lettuce offerings. However, officials want to remind citizens that feeding manatees is illegal, as doing so can make animals more interested in approaching humans and put them at risk of being hit by boats. They offer other suggestions on how everyday people can help.
  • Florida’s legislative session began this month, and some bills are already stirring up controversy. Senate Bill 1024 would lower how much money utility companies pay residents who produce their own electricity with rooftop solar panels. Opponents include local solar companies, homeowners, clean energy advocates and other political leaders. The Miami Herald discovered that Florida Power and Light sent a document to legislators that nearly matches the official bill text. Meanwhile, solar has seen success in Tampa, where the utility company Tampa Electric has announced plans to build a sixth solar farm in Hillsborough County.
  • In December, Gov. Ron DeSantis proposed a three-year, $270 million “Always Ready Florida” plan to adapt to the impacts of climate change. The money would go toward building stormwater pumps, putting utility lines underground, storm-proofing fire stations and libraries and buying out flood-prone homes. The bill is currently making its way through the 2022 Florida legislative session.
  • Florida Senator Linda Stewart is trying to bolster a 2014 constitutional amendment that mandated a program to buy and preserve sensitive land in Florida. Despite the amendment, funding for the Land Acquisition Trust Fund has largely been ignored. Senator Stewart hopes that a new bill will allocate $100 million annually to the fund going forward.
Visit the links below for other environmental stories you may have missed this month!
Share these updates on social media!

A Year in Review: Feature Stories from 2021

When the COVID-19 pandemic began, Robin Lewy worried that farmworkers and their families in North Central Florida would be the last to receive vital public health information. Her concerns were especially amplified for workers who do not speak English as their primary language.

Worldwide agriculture operations have experienced disruptions in food production and transportation during the pandemic, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. In the state of Florida, where agriculture is the second largest industry after tourism, fruit and nut producers saw an average of 30% sales losses over the first two months of the pandemic.

While the industry overall has struggled, dangerous living and working conditions long experienced by farmworkers have been exacerbated by the pandemic, making this group particularly vulnerable to the virus.

Read more

For decades, residents of Puerto Rico have migrated to the U.S. mainland for jobs, college, to raise children and to join family and friends. Those who leave the island often return to it. Patterns of “circular migration” are common.

In 2017, Hurricanes Irma and Maria struck Puerto Rico in rapid succession, resulting in massive and sudden flight from the island to places like Central Florida. 

The Puerto Rico to Central Florida migration dynamic raises key questions: How can government officials, nonprofit organizations and communities support climate migrants in U.S. cities? And what do people in migrating communities need in order to find long-term comfort and stability?

Read more

A familiar Florida backdrop, the longleaf pine has been a fixture in the state since the most recent Ice Age. Though they originated in Virginia, in the following 4,000 years, longleaf pines have slowly crept their way through the Carolinas, Georgia, Alabama and Florida, solidifying their sweep into the Southeast. Endless expanses of these towering trees once watched over a mosaic of native shrubs and grasses, making up one of the most biologically diverse habitats in North America.

Though the trees used to dominate over 90 million acres of the Southeastern U.S. — marching past mountains, flatwoods and rolling hills — today, they encompass less than 3% of their historic range. Remaining longleaf pine ecosystems now exist solely in clustered pockets, scattered across their ancient empire, a shadow of their former selves.

Read more

When given enough sunlight and nutrients, algae can blossom from a naturally occurring organism into a malignant and damaging mass. Floridians are already witnessing algae's harmful consequences in aquatic ecosystems as the state creeps into its summer season.

Learn more about what it means, why it matters and what you can do about it.

Read more

The Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater metro area is majority white, and has a significant and growing Latinx population, according to Census Reporter. In Tampa Bay, both affluent and low-income neighborhoods flood, as does downtown. But communities of color and low-income residents often take the brunt of the impact, facing a greater risk of property loss, health problems and economic hardship.

Tampa has only recently started addressing flooding and stormwater management through a comprehensive lens that includes climate change and environmental justice.

Read more

Florida lawmakers recently passed the Florida Wildlife Corridor Act, which aims to better connect Florida’s natural lands, prevent habitat fragmentation and protect Florida’s drinking water sources. While the legislation is touted as a big win for some, others say a change in the state’s budget could undermine the effort.

Read more

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!

Read more

Twenty-four-foot-tall mist nets. Pet cones for poop. Tiny tracking collars tied with shoelace material. These are just a few of the ways researchers have gotten creative to study Florida bonneted bats, an endangered species only found in South Florida. Scientists are working to identify the bat’s ecological needs and delineate its critical habitat. 

Read more

According to a Food and Agriculture Organization report, Earth’s population is expected to increase to 9.3 billion by the year 2050, meaning we will need to produce 60% more food to feed this growing population.

At the same time, Americans throw away roughly 30 to 40% of their food supply each year. A 2010 study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture found 133 billion pounds of food worth $161 billion was thrown away in 2010 alone. Food is wasted for a number of reasons: spoilage, over-ordering, and discarding of produce with blemishes are a few.

While food waste can unnecessarily threaten global food security, it also places a burden on our natural environment and can contribute to climate change.

Read more

Florida manatees can’t catch a break.

2021 has been especially tough for this iconic species in the Sunshine State. More manatees have died this year than ever recorded over a six-month period, prompting federal wildlife officials to declare an "unusual mortality event." This year, a majority of the deaths link back to insufficient food — exacerbated by the decline of Florida seagrass. Put bluntly: the manatees are starving to death.  

The varied and complicated threats facing manatees are the same threats facing Florida's waterways and those who depend on them.  By saving the manatees, we can save ourselves. 

Read more in this feature story, which was selected as a finalist in the 2021 ArcGIS StoryMaps Challenge for Restoring Our Ocean. 

Read more

Feature Videos from 2021

How Do Insects Help with Decomposition?

What Makes an Insect?

Butterfly Migration in Florida

Planet-Friendly Hurricane Prep

Red Tide 101: The Basics

Action of the Month:
Spot Greenwashing as an
Eco-Conscious Consumer

Companies across the globe use various messages and images to market their products but understanding clear connections to environmental impact can feel murky and daunting.

In this Action of the Month, we will walk through the concept of greenwashing and the ways you can start to differentiate a legitimate eco-friendly company from an unproved sustainable marketing claim. Finding businesses that share your sustainability values and put these values into practice is possible! Together, we will become highly informed consumers. 

Read more
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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. 

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 sugarcane burning and sinkholes 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!


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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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