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Feature Story

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. 

“It really is like a treasure hunt, trying to find the gold," says one bat biologist. 

:bat: Get in the Halloween spirit and read more in our feature story this month!

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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 October: 
  • Florida has won the battle against an invasive snail infestation. The African land snail can grow to be eight inches long and eat 500 kinds of plants, including the fruits and veggies that Florida farmers grow. The unwelcome invader also carries a parasite that can cause meningitis in humans and pets. Over the past decade, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) invested $24 million to control its spread. And it seems to have worked. The snail hasn’t been spotted in three years. This was the second time the state has been successful in eradicating the snail; the first time was in 1975.  

  • As temperatures rise due to climate change, rabies-carrying vampire bats may soon find cozy habitat in Arizona, Texas and Florida. The bats have been documented in Mexico near the U.S. border, and experts predict that within 20 years they will spread to the U.S. This concerns federal agriculture officials because the bats like to feast on cattle blood, while sometimes spreading pathogens like rabies. 

  • Manatees are on the mind. Two Florida congressmen as well as the Florida agriculture commissioner are calling to reclassify Florida manatees as endangered after the species was down-listed to threatened status in 2017. It has been a record year for manatee deaths, with mortalities nearly at 1,000 and much of the decline attributed to loss of seagrass, an important manatee food source. Wildlife officials have asked for $7 million for manatee rehabilitation and conservation. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) will also grant $125,000 to researchers to restore warm-water manatee habitats on the Gulf Coast. 

  • The Rodman Dam in North Florida will not be removed, a federal appeals court ruled this month. The plaintiff, Florida Defenders of the Environment, and other environmentalists supported the removal as they sought to restore the flow of the Ocklawaha River. Opponents say the reservoir created by the dam is an important fishing spot for anglers. 

  • The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has proposed lifting the ban on fishing for goliath grouper that has been in place for 30 years. The fish almost died off in the 1980s due to overfishing and pollution. While the proposal won’t be decided on until 2022 and won’t go into effect until 2023, the rule would allow 200 fishing permits a year for juvenile goliath grouper. Anglers would need to enter a lottery to win the chance to buy a $500 permit. Florida Sea Grant’s Great Goliath Grouper Count recorded 255 goliath grouper in Florida this year. 

  • Hernando County has asked the state to declare Weeki Wachee River a springs protection zone, which supporters say would help limit environmental degradation in the area. If passed, the rule would halt mooring, anchoring and beaching watercraft on the river. 

  • Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has announced a plan to spend $114 million on 16 big water quality improvement projects across Florida, $53 million of which would be dedicated to cleaning up water quality in the Indian River Lagoon. Degradation of the lagoon has been linked to starving manatees and turtles with tumors. Biorock technology, or a way to use electricity to grow seagrass and other marine organisms, has also been proposed to restore the waterway. Supporters say the technique should be considered because the Indian River Lagoon needs critical and immediate protection, but others argue that the proposal is too vague and might do more harm than good. 

  • In March, more than 200 million gallons of polluted wastewater at an abandoned phosphate mine in Manatee County were pumped into Tampa Bay to stop a leak from flooding the surrounding area. Now, officials have proposed injecting the excess water into the aquifer. Florida’s agriculture commissioner, several environmental organizations, and some Manatee County residents have opposed this move, citing the potential for further environmental contamination. The injection well would pump the wastewater up to 3,300 feet underground, and officials say the well would be closely monitored.   

  • Florida state senators have introduced the Clean Water Allotment Modernization Act of 2021, legislation that would update a 30-year-old rule on how to allocate money that protects Florida waterways. Legislators say the bill could “help communities work on projects affecting problems ranging from red tides on Florida’s Gulf Coast to harmful algal blooms in the St. Johns River and struggling seagrasses and dying manatees in the Indian River Lagoon.” 

  • Programs in both West Palm Beach and Miami Beach are planting trees that are more adept at fighting climate change than the state’s iconic palms. Atmospheric carbon dioxide levels today are higher than at any point in the past 800,000 years, according to NOAA. Because palm trees don’t produce wood, they are the least effective at carbon sequestration. The average palm tree in Florida can only absorb about 5 pounds of CO2 per year. Other trees like oaks, mahogany, pines, and cedars can sequester more than 3,000 pounds of CO2 over their lifetime.

  • In South Florida, neighborhoods as far as 20 miles inland are experiencing flooding caused by rising seas. This is because as sea levels in the Atlantic Ocean rise, drainage canals don’t serve their intended purpose and floodwaters linger. The South Florida Water Management District submitted a $1.5 billion funding request to upgrade the canals.  Meanwhile, a new rating system announced by Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will lead to rising flood insurance premiums for most Florida homes.  

  • The Orlando Utilities Commission gave the green light for customers to resume normal water use after an 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. In August, the commission asked its customers to limit irrigating lawns and landscapes to help prevent impacts to water quality caused by the shortage.    

  • Red tide concentrations appear to be worsening in the Florida Panhandle while improving in the greater Tampa Bay region, according to the FWC. For the most up-to-date information, visit: Red Tide Current Status. New grant funding from the Tampa Bay Estuary Program will help researchers better determine the sources of nutrient pollution that are causing red tide in the region to linger. Meanwhile, samples collected from the St. Johns River earlier this month indicated high levels of microcystins, a toxin produced by certain types of blue-green algal blooms.  

Visit the links below for other environmental stories you may have missed this month!
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From Florida Podcast: More to Bats than Spooky Reputation

Bats are the only mammals that power their own flight and the University of Florida has hundreds of thousands of them living in the world’s largest occupied bat houses. 

From Florida podcast host Nicci Brown talks with Verity Mathis, mammal collections manager at the Florida Museum of Natural History about the history of bats at UF, species found in our colony, the role bats play in the ecosystem and other fascinating facts about bats.
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Featured Video

Learn more about this insect & other important insects in Florida at: The Insect Effect

Action of the Month:
Have a Sustainably Spooky Halloween

Halloween products such as costumes and candy can contribute to an environmentally unfriendly holiday that produces a lot of waste. Over 10 billion dollars are spent on Halloween products each year in the United States. And one 2019 report surveyed 19 major retailers in the United Kingdom and estimated that Halloween costumes and decor generated over 2,000 tonnes of plastic waste each year.

Don’t worry, there’s no need to cancel your Halloween plans. Instead, join us for the October Action of the Month: “Have a Sustainably Spooky Halloween!” and learn more about some simple steps you can take to Hallow-green your holiday! 

 

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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 sea level rise, stony coral tissue loss disease and 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! 

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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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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