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Environmental Roundup May 14, 2021

(Davis) G. Hansen et Moestrup 2000 (Gymnodinium breve Davis, 1948; Ptychodiscus brevis (Davis) Steidinger 1979) / WikiCommons
Karenia brevis, a.k.a. red tide

We are all connected by the environment we share. The Earth is our home. This is the space where we share the environmental stories that caught our attention this week, in Florida and beyond.

If you suffer from respiratory irritation due to red tide, wearing your COVID mask might help.

Governor Ron DeSantis met with Southwest Florida business leaders and Captains for Clean Water in Fort Myers, Wednesday, to discuss the growing threat from a toxic blue-green algae outbreak in Lake Okeechobee and red tide that continues to plague the region's Gulf coast. The News-Press reports, DeSantis is urging the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to create a new system operating manual for Lake Okeechobee with a focus on sending water south during the winter dry season in order to create more capacity during the rainy season.

Currently, the lake's elevation is more than 1.5 feet higher than where the Army Corp. would like it to be by the official start of hurricane season June 1. A consortium of environmental organizations sent a letter to Governor DeSantis, Monday, requesting a state of emergency declaration for regions impacted by toxic algae outbreaks. The letter asks the governor to remove restrictions on sending nutrient-laden water from Lake Okeechobee south instead of releasing water into the Caloosahatchee River. Environmental advocates recall how dual toxic blue green and red tide blooms severely impacted Southwest Florida in 2018 and 2019 in what was one of the worst algae outbreaks on record.

The governor responded, Wednesday, saying an emergency declaration is not needed because it wouldn't impact the Army Corps water release schedule.

The red tide algae bloom that's persisted along Southwest Florida's Gulf Coast since last November may be responsible for recent reports of sea turtle deaths in Lee and Collier Counties. Founder of the Bonita Springs-based nonprofit sea turtle monitoring organization Turtle Time, Inc., Eve Haverfied, several of the recently recovered carcasses were kemps ridley sea turtles. Kemp's ridleys are the smallest and rarest sea turtle species in the world.

Three recently discovered carcasses are being sent to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission for necropsy. The News-Press reports, a higher-than average number of sea turtle deaths has been reported this year on Collier beaches as well. For many of the recently discovered dead turtles, its impossible to determine whether red tide toxicosis contributed to their deaths because they were so badly decomposed.

Environmental groups are advocating for a speed limit for ships in portions of the Gulf of Mexico south of the Florida Panhandle in order to help protect endangered whales. The AP reports, they're asking for a speed limit of 10 knots, or just over 11 miles per hour, in a region of the Gulf covering about 11,500 square miles off the Florida and Alabama coasts.

The environmental groups want night-time ship traffic to detour around that core habitat. The new protection measures are being sought for a population of fewer than 100 Rice whales. The marine mammals were discovered to be living in the northeastern Gulf of Mexico year-round in the 1990s. Earlier this year, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration researchers said the whales were a newly discovered species. They'd previously been believed to be Brydes' whales.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation commissioners unanimously voted, Thursday not to provide additional state protection or a conservation plan for the increasing number of flamingos in the state. Scientists say more wild sightings of the iconic bird in recent years could be a sign that flamingos are trying to make a comeback. The birds were mostly wiped out by early 20th century plume hunters. Then about a decade ago, a wild flock began appearing at a stormwater treatment marsh in Palm Beach County.

Florida took one step closer to allowing people to catch and keep Goliath Grouper for the first time in 30 years on Thursday. The Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission told staff to come up with proposed rules to allow a limited catch of the giant grouper. It can reach eight feet in length and weigh up to 800 pounds. They heard from people who pleaded with them not to allow taking including Jean Michel Cousteau, president of the Ocean Futures Society.

"We need to protect goliath groupers forever in perpetuity like we do with turtles, manatees, dolphins, whales," said Costeau.

However commissioners like Robert Spottswood from Key West said they wanted to give a limited number of people the chance to catch the big fish.

"Our conservation efforts have worked and we should be applauding ourselves and celebrating the success that we've had in bringing this fishery back," said Spottswood.

"We've brought it back to a level where now it can sustain a small harvest."

Commissioners and the public will have a chance to weigh in again when the commission hears the proposed rules for taking goliath grouper. It's already legal to catch-and release them.

Outside of Florida, the Washington Post reports the EPA is warning that the U.S. has entered unprecedented climate territory, but another corporation is ignoring a shut down order, this week in Michigan. John Flesher for the AP reports on Line 5.

In what might be viewed as a bullying move, the state of Wyoming, which is the country's largest coal producing state, is threatening to sue other states that refuse to purchase their coal. The Guardian reports.

During the pandemic, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration largely failed people who work on farms, in restaurants, and in meat-processing facilities. Civil Eats reports “labor leaders hope Cal/OSHA’s Doug Parker will steer the ship right.”

Get ready for another Dust Bowl: Yale Environment 360 reports. (You probably missed the first Dust Bowl, but PBS has you covered. Learn more here.)

In case you missed it the Federal government eased environmental regulations in the wake of gas shortages.

Florida might be the sunshine state, but Minnesota has the best solar program, at least according to independent non-profit Institute for Local Self Reliance.

Learn about all this and more, including how to keep love bugs from sticking to your car, on our website, WGCU.org.

By Ebyabe - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11911346
Gasparilla Island

Do & Learn

  • Find a place to fish: Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s (FWC) has a new Florida Fishing Pier Finder, an interactive map that allows anglers to find publicly-accessed fishing piers, jetties and fishing-specific bridges in freshwater and saltwater locations throughout the state. It is best viewed using a computer or tablet with a larger screen. Visit MyFWC.com/PierFinder to search for a location by county.
  • Harvard University has produced a short educational video on everything you wanted to know about pthalates.
  • The Alliance for the Arts GreenMarket is continuing its decade old tradition of free, urban farming workshops on select Saturdays at 10:30 a.m. by hosting a cooking demonstration on Saturday, May 15. Visit https://www.artinlee.org/event/farmtokitchen for more information
  • Also on May 15 at 10 a.m. the Coastal & Heartland National Estuary Partnership is hosting a native plants and landscaping workshop at the Charlotte Harbor Environmental Center. Register here.
  • Saturday, May 15 is also the opening of the new Welcome and Discovery Center at Lovers Key State Park in the Outdoor Classroom from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Cost is FREE with entrance to the park.
  • Climate.gov has several lessons on all things climate, often meant for grades 9-12. That doesn’t mean they aren’t useful and helpful for adults though, and can certainly turn into an entire family educational session. Explore the lessons for yourself and learn more about our climate at https://www.climate.gov/teaching.
  • If you know a young person in grades 8, 9, or 10 interested in marine science, the Summer Institute for Marine Science (SIMS) has a half-day summer camp in marine biology. Young people will explore estuarine and coastal ecology of Southwest Florida through excursions within the Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve. Click here for more information.
  • If you know a young person who would be interested in hunting, the FWC has a mentored youth hunting program. Visit MyFWC.com/YHPF.
  • Another FWC effort, the Florida Youth Conservation Center Network offers camp programs with numerous activities focused on the theme of conservation-centered recreation. Learn more by visiting FYCCN.org.
  • Get certified as a Florida Friendly Fishing Guide. Scholarships are available.
  • Did you miss the League of Women Voters special session on environment and growth management in Southwest Florida? Watch it here.
  • The theme of Charlotte County’s 2022 county calendar will be "One Charlotte, One Water," and the county is calling on the public to submit photos that feature water in Charlotte County. They’ll select 15 photos to be featured in the 2022 One Charlotte, One Water calendar. Email your photos to Brian.Gleason@CharlotteCountyFL.gov. Other details: Use the subject line One Charlotte, One Water and include your contact information and the subject of your photo. Winners will receive a free calendar and have their photos featured on the county’s website and social media pages. You can enter as many photos as you would like. Winners will be notified by phone or email. Calendars will be available to the public in November at county facilities to be announced.

Want to influence your local environment? There’s probably a public meeting for that.

Check out Collier County’s full public calendar here.

Charlotte County still has several committee vacancies to fill and many have something to do with the environment. Learn more at https://www.charlottecountyfl.gov/news/charlotte-county-committee-vacancies.stml

Got an environment story or tip to share? Email Valerie Vande Panne at Vvandepanne@wgcu.org.

Jenny Staletovich has been a journalist working in Florida for nearly 20 years.
Nancy Klingener covers the Florida Keys for WLRN. Since moving to South Florida in 1989, she has worked for the Miami Herald, Solares Hill newspaper and the Monroe County Public Library.