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River protection critical for snapping turtles

‘All it has is this river and it has nowhere else to go …’

Gary M. Stolz/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

An alligator snapping turtle. Photo courtesy Gary M. Stolz/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Staff Report

FRISCO — Conservation of coastal rivers of the northern Gulf of Mexico is vital to the survival of the alligator snapping turtle, including two recently discovered species, University of Florida scientists concluded in a recent study that sheds more light on the taxonomy of the dinosaurs of the turtle world.

The study shows the alligator snapping turtle, the largest freshwater turtle in the Western Hemisphere and previously believed to be one species, is actually three separate species. Continue reading

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Climate: Annual sea-level cycles intensifying along eastern Gulf Coast

Higher summer spikes could mean more destructive storm surges

Researchers have documented changes in the annual cycle of sea level changes along the Florida Gulf Coast. bberwyn photo.

Researchers have documented changes in the annual cycle of sea level changes along the Florida Gulf Coast. bberwyn photo.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Annual sea level fluctuations have been intensifying along parts of the Gulf Coast, raising concerns about more hurricane flooding and impacts to delicate coastal ecosystems in the region.

There have always been seasonal fluctuations in sea level, which rise in summer and fall in winter. But a new study shows that, from the Florida Keys to southern Alabama, those cycles have amplified in the past 20 years.

The additional summer sea level rise during the past two decades means storm surges can rise higher than previously thought, according to Thomas Wahl, a postdoctoral researcher from the University of Siegen in Germany who is working at the University of South Florida in St. Petersburg and lead author of the study. Continue reading

Environment: Unchecked population growth & development are threatening Florida’s wildlife

State’s wildlife is squeezed from all sides

Oceanic birds and birds that rely on coastal habitat face challenges related to climate change, according to the 2011 State of the Birds report. PHOTO BY BOB BERWYN.

Oceanic birds and birds that rely on coastal habitat face challenges related to climate change, according to the 2011 State of the Birds report. bberwyn photo.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — The rapid growth of Florida’s population, combined with laissez-faire development policies and the lack of strong environmental regulations is putting the state’s natural resources at risk, conservation advocates said in a year-end press release.

The warning came as the U.S. Census Bureau released figures showing that Florida will soon overtake New York as the third-most populous state in the country, and as Florida’s wildlife continues to struggle in the face habitat loss, urban sprawl, water withdrawals and other effects of rapid human population growth in recent decades.

“As Florida’s human population growth breaks new records, incredible species like panthers and manatees are dying at record rates,” said Stephanie Feldstein, the Center for Biological Diversity’s population and sustainability director. “Florida is a beautiful, biodiversity-rich state, but it has a long history of replacing that beauty with condos and strip malls. If Florida doesn’t get its growth under control, development and concrete are all that will be left.” Continue reading

Climate: Florida plants threatened by sea level rise get Endangered Species Act protection

Listing decision part of far-reaching settlement for imperiled species

Three Florida coastal plants threatened by sea level rise get Endangered Species Act protection. bberwyn photo.

Three Florida coastal plants threatened by sea level rise get Endangered Species Act protection. bberwyn photo.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Chugging ahead on its commitment to make endangered species listing decisions for more than 750 species, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service last week announced that three native Florida plants — all threatened by sea level rise — deserved protected status.

Most populations of the plants — aboriginal prickly apple, Florida semaphore cactus and Cape Sable thoroughwort are at, or just above, mean sea level.

“These native plants are being squeezed out of existence — pressed between coastal development and rising sea levels,” said Florida-based Center for Biological Diversity attorney Jaclyn Lopez. “Protection under the Endangered Species Act will give them a role in South Florida’s planning for rising seas.” Continue reading

Study: Loggerhead sea turtles visit multiple nesting sites in a single season

A loggerhead sea turtle off the coast of New England. Photo courtesy NOAA/Matthew Weeks.

A loggerhead sea turtle off the coast of New England. Photo courtesy NOAA/Matthew Weeks.

Findings suggest need for broader habitat protection

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — A USGS study tracking threatened loggerhead sea turtles in the Gulf of Mexico suggests the turtles may need broader habitat protection to recover. The loggerheads roam far and wide between nesting beaches, and to offshore habitat in a single season, through waters impacted by oil and fishing industries.

The findings also cast new uncertainties on current estimates of the size of the species’ Gulf of Mexico subpopulation, based on nest counts.

“Our research shows that the same turtle could easily deposit eggs in Alabama and Florida if nests are separated by about 2 weeks,” said lead author Kristen Hart, a USGS research ecologist.. “Population numbers based on nest counts may therefore be biased upwards if nests at the two sites were assumed to have come from two different females.” Continue reading

Conservation group says Florida butterfly extinction shows need for better endangered species protections

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Will the Endangered Species Act save the Miami blue butterfly? Photo via USFWS.

40-year-old law seen as bulwark against biodiversity crisis

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — If you can imagine looking up at the night sky and watching familiar stars blinking out forever, then you might have some sense of what’s going on with the planet’s plants and animals in part of the greatest wave of extinctions and biodiversity loss in many thousands of years.

The constellation of life is losing stars at an alarming and increasing rate, including the likely extinction of two Florida butterfly species announced last week by the U.S. Fishd and Wildlife Service — Florida Zestos and rockland grass skippers.

In a press release, conservation groups say the loss of the two species could have been saved with the protection of the Endangered Species Act. Continue reading

Morning photo: Manatee madness

Florida wildlife

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A manatee comes up for air in Florida’s Crystal River.

CRYSTAL RIVER — Getting a closeup look at marine mammals is always a treat. I believe we have a lot more in common with our ocean-going friends than we realize, and we should be trying to listen to what they have to say. This week, I had a chance to visit the Crystal River in Florida this week to look for manatees. The gentle vegetarians are protected by various federal and state laws, but they are still struggling due to extensive development and other human activities along the Florida coast. One of the best places to catch a glimpse of manatees is at Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park about 45 minutes north of Tampa, Florida. Biologists at the park help rehabilitate manatees that have been injured by boat strikes, and from the park’s manatee observatory, it’s easy to see the deep scars on their backs. We’ve made some progress on protecting these magnificent marine mammals, but there’s more work to be done. Continue reading

Feds eye critical habitat for loggerhead sea turtles

More than 700 miles of beaches included in USFWS proposal

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Loggerhead sea turtle. Photo via NOAA, courtesy  Marco Giuliano/Fondazion Cetacea.

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A long swath of Florida’s Gulf Coast has been proposed as critical habitat for loggerhead sea turtles.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Federal biologists have proposed protecting hundreds of miles of U.S. shoreline from North Carolina to Mississippi to protect critical nesting habitat for threatened loggerhead sea turtles.

Florida beaches could be especially crucial to the survival of the species, with the most recent science showing that the state harbors one of only two global loggerhead aggregations with more than 10,000 nesting females nesting per year. The other is on Masirah Island, Oman.

The proposed critical habitat areas include 90 nesting beaches in coastal counties located in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama and Mississippi. The proposed areas incorporate about 740 beach shoreline miles and account for approximately 84 percent of the documented nesting in these six states. Continue reading

Environment: New Florida water quality plan flawed

Measures don’t meet Clean Water Act requirements

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Florida’s Everglades are threatened by a new state water plan. Bob Berwyn photo.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Watchdog grous are characterizing a proposed Florida water quality plan as a give-away to polluting industries, creating even more loopholes to spew sewage, manure, and fertilizer into Florida waters, according to watchdog groups who sued the state and federal government in 2008 for their failure to set pollution limits, as required by the Clean Water Act.

“We have record numbers of dead manatees washing up on southwest Florida right now, in the prime of our tourist season,” said Earthjustice attorney David Guest. “Where is the leadership? This is an absolute sell out. This bogus plan gives deep-pocketed polluters even more loopholes. And what do we, the public, get? More gross, slimy algae in the water.”

Earthjustice said the plan was developed in a shady backroom deal without public input, and pointed out that a federal court has to review the plan under the terms of an earlier settlement agreement. Continue reading

Morning photo: Winter warmup

Beachin’ it …

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Sunset over the Gulf of Mexico.

FRISCO —It’s always nice to dream about the beach about now, when the snow in the Colorado high country is probably piled about as deep as it’s going to get for the winter. That doesn’t mean I’m about to abandon the slopes to head for warmer climes, but a little day dreaming never hurt anything. Plus, shooting beach scenes is the most fun thing to do with a camera after shooting mountains and snow. These are a few of my favorite ocean side scenes along the Gulf Coast of Florida. Visit our FineArt America online gallery for more photography.

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Port St. Joe, Florida.

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