As the climate changes, Floridians are expected to see more extreme heat days. What can you do to stay safe? Watch this video by TESI Environmental Communicators Riley Gonzalez and Jessie Moses for more tips to beat the heat.
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 August:
The South Florida Water Management District recently reported that farmers in the Everglades Agricultural Area were able to cut nutrients in field runoff by 66% this year, which is more than twice as much as required by the 1994 Everglades Forever Act. The act requires farmers to reduce phosphorus by 25% annually. Since the law was passed, the Everglades Agricultural Area has met or exceeded the requirements every year but one.
After much debate, the Titusville City Council voted to allow a “right to clean water” charter amendment on the November ballot. However, due to language in the 2020 Clean Waterways Act preempting this kind of measure, council members and residents worry it may be illegal. The council decided the amendment will appear, but if it is struck down in court before the ballot deadline, it will be taken off. In May, a political committee called Florida’s Right to Clean Water 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.
According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the St. Johns River, which supplies half of the drinking water to Brevard County, was nearly three feet below average in the Cocoa area in August. Outflows of the river such as Lake Poinsett and Lake Washington were also experiencing record low water levels, increasing the risk for algal blooms and fish kills. Lake Poinsett is one of the few sources of surface water supplies for drinking water in Florida. Experts say the lower water levels are due to a dryer summer driven by a La Niña cycle and a changing climate.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released its forecast for high tide flooding days at various locations around the U.S. NOAA experts say the rate of flooding is twice as high as it was 20 years ago and is expected to grow. The forecast reports that in the year 2100, there will only be one day when high tide flooding is not an issue in the Fort Myers area, and Naples is expected to be flooded every day.
Harmful algal blooms are making headlines this month. A new study by scientists at the University of Florida has provided the strongest evidence to date that human activities directly contribute to the severity of red tide. Additionally, research from the Sarasota Roskamp Institute has found that inhaling red tide toxins can lead to neurological problems in some people. In early August, the Florida Department of Health issued an advisory about a blue-green algal bloom in the Hillsborough River, and beach visitors in South Florida have been reporting large mats of stinky sargassum seaweed. Scientists say nonpoint sources of pollution from agricultural fertilizers, leaky septic tanks, and urban stormwater runoff feed these blooms.
Research from the U.S. Geological Survey has found that after thousands of years of stability, much of Florida’s reef tract is now shrinking. Scientists say the decline of the only coral reef in the continental U.S. can be attributed to ocean heat waves, disease, and hurricanes. But experts say if the goals outlined in NOAA’s 20-year plan to restore reefs in the Florida Keys are met, the downward spiral could be reversed. They also note that climate change is a big cause of coral death and restoration is only one piece of the puzzle.
According to the Florida Public Service Commission, the popularity of rooftop solar is growing in Florida. In 2021, more than 40,000 property owners had new rooftop solar panel systems installed, a 44% growth rate from 2020. Documents leaked to media outlets suggest that a consulting firm hired by Florida Power and Light recruited and promoted a ghost candidate to challenge then-democratic state Senator José Javier Rodriguez in the 2020 election. Rodriguez, who lost his election by 32 votes, proposed legislation that would have allowed property owners to install rooftop solar panels and sell the energy back to their tenants. FPL denies any wrongdoing and suggests the leaked documents were the result of a feud between the owner of the consulting firm and a former employee. U.S. Representative Kathy Castor (D-Fla.) is asking the Department of Justice to launch an investigation into the allegations. Other news outlets have reported that the consulting firm also secretly financed a Tallahassee news outlet that advocated for rate hikes, and stalked a Florida Times-Union journalist who has written critical articles about FPL.
A nonprofit agency that handles claims after insurance companies go bankrupt has decided to borrow $150 million, a loan that will need to be repaid by policyholders. The decision comes after five insurance companies have gone insolvent since February. In a state rife with natural hazards and claims fraud, property insurers are leaving the state in droves, leaving Floridians to find coverage elsewhere at rates up to 50% higher. According to Climate Central, the Atlantic hurricane season is seeing more storms, and climate change is causing more nuisance flooding in Florida, which could result in more costly damage to homes and businesses. In May, state lawmakers convened for a special session to secure billions of dollars for a reinsurance fund to help insurers cover payouts for catastrophic events.
During this year's nesting season, Florida’s three most endangered sea turtle species have shown signs of rebounding. Loggerheads in particular dug a record number of nests, especially along Brevard County’s Space Coast. Despite promising trends, sea turtles face a variety of challenges, especially in the face of climate change. Should sand reach a temperature of 82 degrees Fahrenheit or higher, most hatchlings will be born female. Not only would a population made up of more females slow reproduction, but the smaller mating pool could also increase the risk of birth defects and disease.
A year ago, there were 58,000 electric vehicles registered in Florida. Today there are close to 96,000. Florida is now working on expanding infrastructure for the vehicles, as charger access is one reason consumers might be reluctant to make the switch. Florida Power and Light plans to install over 1,000 charge ports, and the Edison Electric Institute is also working to provide fast charging stations along major U.S. travel corridors.
The decline of the Florida manatee population has been a hot topic in the news for the last two years. According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the number of living manatees today is nearly equal to the number of recorded manatee deaths over the last 12 years. Though the outlook for manatees is looking better than last year, with several months of 2022 still to go, the 661 reported deaths this year already would rank it as the fourth deadliest on record. Particularly affected is Brevard County, where 54% of this year’s manatee deaths have taken place.
Since the passage of the Florida Wildlife Corridor Act in 2021, the state has acquired land or purchased conservation easements to prevent more than 56,000 acres from being developed. And in late August, state officials agreed to preserve an additional seven properties, totaling 20,000 acres. These landscapes that include forests, ranches, citrus groves, and pasturelands help provide habitat and space to roam for the state’s endangered species as well as help limit nutrient-heavy runoff.
Visit the links below for other environmental stories you may have missed 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.
Visit our blog posts below to learn more about these topics!
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 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 Giant African land snails, insect decline, and waste incineration in Florida.
Visit our blog posts below to learn more about these topics!
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!
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.