Environment: Less light pollution along Florida beaches is good news for sea turtles

A leatherback sea turtle at sea. Photo courtesy NOAA.

A leatherback sea turtle at sea. Photo courtesy NOAA.

Lighting ordinances help protect nesting turtles

Staff Report

Coastal development may still be running rampant in Florida, but there are some signs that a concerted effort to protect sea turtles from at least some of the impacts is paying off.

A study that started as a high school science project suggests that a network of sea turtle-friendly lighting ordinances along Florida’s coast seems to be working by darkening beaches, which is a big deal because scientists already know that sea turtles are disturbed brightly lit areas. The findings fit in with other studies that assess the impacts of light pollution on wildlife.

“Florida’s coastlines are getting darker, and that’s a good thing not just for sea turtles but for other organisms,” said University of Central Floria biology professor John Weishampel, co-author of the study published last week in the journal Remote Sensing in Ecology and Conservation. “It shows we affect turtles’ nesting, but at the same time we’ve been successful at reducing that effect.” Continue reading

Comeback spurs plan to downlist manatees

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Manatees gathering at a freshwater spring in Florida. @bberwyn photo.

Protection efforts pay off for the marine mammals

Staff Report

Federal biologists say manatees are on the road to recovery and they’re proposed to downlist the species from endangered to threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

When scientists started tracking the gentle marine mammals, the Florida population was estimated at about 1,200. In the last 25 years that population has grown to about 6,300, with 13,000 across the species’ range, including Puerto Rico, Mexico, Central America, South America, and Greater and Lesser Antilles. Continue reading

Fossil fuel development looms at Florida preserve

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Conservation advocates are concerned about a proposal to explore for oil and gas in Big Cypress National Preserve.

Risky business in one of the country’s most biodiverse regions

Staff Report

FRISCO — No place is safe from the never-ending quest to feed modern society’s addiction to fossil fuels. One of the latest targets is Florida’s Big Cypress National Preserve, where Burnett Oil, of Ft. Worth, Texas, is seeking a permit to do seismic testing across approximately 110 square miles.

The National Park Service is taking comments on the proposal  at this website through Aug. 16, and conservation advocates are rallying supporters to try and block or limit the proposal. Continue reading

Biodiversity: Mixed messages on manatee threats

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Manatees gather at a warm-water spring in western Florida. @bberwyn photo.

Loss of seagrass habitat, red tide events still seen as key threats

Staff Report

FRISCO — A new report on threats to manatees is full of mixed signals, on the one hand downgrading the extinction threat, but on the other, warning that loss of habitat and cold-water mortality events are still huge threats.

The study, led by the  U.S. Geological Survey, is part of a five-year status review for the endangered marine mammal.  The scientists concluded that  the long-term probability of the species surviving has increased compared to a 2007 analysis, mainly because of higher aerial survey estimates of population size, improved methods of tracking survival rates, and better estimates of the availability of warm-water refuges. Continue reading

Watchdog group says manatee harassment ‘out of control’

Agency efforts to educate visitors sometimes met with verbal abuse, according to federal biologists

Manatees gather at King Spring, along Florida's Crystal River, which serves as a warm-water refuge on a 30-degree January day. PHOTO BY JOYCE KLEEN/USFWS.

Manatees gather at King Spring, along Florida’s Crystal River, which serves as a warm-water refuge on a 30-degree January day. PHOTO BY JOYCE KLEEN/USFWS.

Staff Report

FRISCO — Observations by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologists may bolster a watchdog group’s arguments that well-intentioned swim-with-manatee programs are actually pushing the endangered marine mammals closer to the brink of extinction.

In some Florida locations, harassment of manatees by visitors may be out of control, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, which last month said it will go to court to try and end the programs.

An email written last year by outgoing Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge/ Kings Bay Manatee Refuge manager Michael Lusk may be a “smoking gun” that shows exactly how visitors are disturbing the animals. Without adequate resources to manage the swim-with-manatees programs, the activities are likely to contribute to the decline of the species. Continue reading

Florida reprimands state worker for violating climate-change gag order

Watchdog group challenges disciplinary action, says state officials may have violated law by requiring alteration of meeting records

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Much of South Florida will be inundated with just a few feet of sea level rise during the next few decades. Map courtesy University of Arizona.

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Sea level rise is already nibbling away at Florida beaches.

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — Florida Governor Rick Scott’s hear-no-evil approach to climate change has led to a harsh, and probably unjustified, reprimand for a state worker who discussed global warming and the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline at an official state meeting in late February.

Barton Bibler, the land management plan coordinator in the Florida Division of State Lands, was ordered to take a two-day leave of absence and get a doctor’s clearance before returning to work.

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, a watchdog group, has formally asked state officials to investigate the disciplinary action against Bibler, suggesting that his supervisor’s orders to alter records from the meeting may warrant criminal investigation. Continue reading

Lawsuit targets more protection for Florida manatees

Critical habitat needed to protect marine mammals

ipj

Florida manatees resting at Crystal Springs. bberwyn photo.

Staff Report

FRISCO — Wildlife advocates say they will the sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for failing to adequately protect Florida’s endangered manatees. The formal notice of the lawsuit filed this week specifically takes aim at commercial tours that bring hundreds of swimmers into small shallow warm-water lagoons to touch otherwise resting manatees.

Florida manatees are one of the most endangered marine mammals in U.S. coastal waters. Despite their large size, they have low levels of body fat and a very slow metabolism, making them extremely vulnerable to cold and unable to survive long in water colder than 68 degrees Fahrenheit. But the rare shallow warm-water springs manatees need in the winter are precisely those targeted by the increasingly popular swim-with tours. Continue reading

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