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Feature Story

It’s been over a year since 215 million gallons of wastewater were pumped into Tampa Bay to stop a leak at Piney Point, a former phosphate-processing facility in Manatee County.

Explore our interactive timeline to take a look back at the long and troubled history of the site and to catch up on what’s been happening lately. Read our feature story to find out more about what you can do and where you can learn more. 

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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 April: 
  • Hurricane researchers are considering moving the start of the Atlantic hurricane season up two weeks to May 15 after seven years of preseason tropical systems and recent predictions for another above-normal Atlantic hurricane season this year. Studies also show that human-caused climate change is contributing to wetter storms, as 2020’s Atlantic hurricane season broke records and this trend is likely to continue into future hurricane seasons. Similarly, La Niña is expected to linger, favoring active hurricane and wildfire seasons.
     
  • Wildlife camera footage from the U.S. Geological Survey suggests that bobcats may be useful in the efforts to control Florida’s invasive Burmese python population, which has been decimating bird and mammal populations. The footage shows an adventurous bobcat harvesting eggs from a python nest, eating some and burying more for later. While the anecdotal footage isn’t enough to prove that this is a common trend, scientists are hopeful the feline is beginning to catch on to the special snack.
     
  • The state recently approved 10 land and conservation easement acquisitions, which collectively will help prevent development on over 17,000 acres of Florida land. About 16,700 acres from these acquisitions are located along the Florida Wildlife Corridor. In total, the acquisitions cost $40 million. 
     
  • Horse conchs, bright orange snails that produce Florida’s state shell, are at risk of extinction according to a new study by the University of South Florida and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. The study found that the snail’s lifespan is much shorter, and females spawn later in life than originally thought. Previous research also shows the snail’s size has been declining steadily over decades, which scientists say is a sign of a tipping point. Development, habitat loss, warming ocean temperatures and overharvesting are to blame for the species’ decline.
     
  • The Everglades Foundation is suing a prominent environmental engineer, Thomas Van Lent, on claims that he stole internal documents and research before resigning from his more than decade long job. The researcher announced on Twitter he would be starting work for the Friends of the Everglades instead, commenting that the new organization prioritizes “facts over politics.”
     
  • As invasive water hyacinth overtakes Lake Okeechobee, the FWC is trying a new method to control it. A metal boat that resembles a bulldozer skims the water’s surface and uses a pitchfork to remove the bulbous plant. The waste is then shredded and offered as an alternative to store-bought fertilizer to nearby landowners. The purpose of this 35-acre pilot project is to see if this method can successfully keep water hyacinth at bay without any harsh chemicals.
     
  • Manatee deaths this year have already surpassed 500. This time last year, the deaths had already exceeded 680. Water quality and lack of seagrass in the Indian River Lagoon remains a problem, and this year’s number of deaths is still more than the five-year average of manatee deaths at this time of year.
     
  • Despite strong voter opposition, state officials have approved a new toll road that will run through the Split Oak Forest, land previously set aside for conservation. Officials say the road is needed as the population in Florida continues to grow. An environmental group, Friends of Split Oak Forest, plan to sue the state for going against voters’ wishes. 
     
  • The endangered green sea turtle is prone to a disease called fibropapillomatosis which causes the growth of large debilitating tumors on the skin, eyes and shell. Recent studies from both Florida Atlantic University and University of Central Florida are shining light on possible solutions. At FAU, it was discovered that turtles with the disease have lower vitamin D levels than healthy turtles. Turtles kept in sun tanks for rehabilitation had tumor regrowth less often than those in traditional rehab conditions. UCF scientists have discovered new gene variants in sea turtles. The research may help to explain why green sea turtles are more susceptible to fibropapillomatosis than other types of turtles, such as loggerhead turtles, and may aid in developing future intervention strategies.
     
  • In a new study from the University of Florida, researchers have determined that human activity related to wastewater and agriculture has worsened and prolonged red tide blooms in Southwest Florida. Currently, a health alert has been issued for blue-green algae blooms along the east shore of Lake Okeechobee, and Florida congressional representatives are pushing for algal blooms to be included in Major Disaster Declarations to preserve vital marine ecosystems.
     
  • Florida's citrus industry continues to decline for several reasons. Development, imports, changes in beverage-consumption habits, and most notably, a bacterial disease called citrus greening are the underlying causes. The most recent dip in the crop is attributed to a cold-weather event, which dropped the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Florida orange forecast by about 7% since the March update, totaling a decrease of about 19% since the first forecast in October. However, research shared at the Florida Citrus Growers' Institute shows promising results. One central project is focused on the use of oxytetracycline in trees as a remedy for citrus greening. New methods might make it possible to significantly lower prices and make the overall process of treating citrus greening more feasible.
     
  • On Earth Day, 30 state representatives signed a letter asking Gov. Ron DeSantis to declare a climate state of emergency and to appoint a task force to address the issue. According to central Florida Democratic Rep. Anna Eskamani, “Despite being the Sunshine State, we are still heavily reliant on fossil fuels. And at this point, Florida has not pursued renewable energy goals [...] we want to see leadership in committing to a clean energy economy.” Also on Earth Day, Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried proposed a rule that would put the state on track toward 100% renewable energy by 2050.
     
  • President Joe Biden’s proposed 2023 budget includes $407 million for Everglades Restoration, with a majority going toward the construction of the Everglades Agricultural Area Reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee. The 17,000-acre reservoir which is meant to hold water and avoid sending lake water to the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries, is set to be completed by 2029.

Visit the links below for other environmental stories you may have missed this month!
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Action of the Month:
Become a Community Scientist

According to the Oxford dictionary, citizen science, recently relabeled as community science, is the “collection and analysis of data relating to the natural world by members of the general public, typically as part of a collaborative project with professional scientists." By providing data to professional organizations, community scientists can contribute to local policy initiatives, aid in resource conservation, and support sustainable system development from the comfort of their own homes.

For the April Action of the Month, learn more about the different ways you can become a community scientist and contribute to environmental projects and solutions in Florida and beyond!

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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. 

Featured Video:
Diversify Your Landscape

Follow along with Brittney Miller, a former TESI Environmental Communicator, as she diversifies her landscape to benefit insects!

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 springs protection zones, dune health and invasive species 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.

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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