Tag Archives: florida

In the 1940s, monkeys escaped from a farm. Their descendants now live in a thriving colony in Florida

Two green monkeys kissing in the mangrove forest near e Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in South Florida. Credit: Aaron Mencia.

For over seven decades, a colony of green monkeys (Chlorocebus sabaeus) has been living in urban South Florida, close to where jets take off from a nearby airport. Although Dania Beach locals love them, no one was quite sure how they got there.

Now, researchers at Florida Atlantic University (FAU) claim they’ve traced the colony origin to the Dania Chimpanzee Farm jailbreak.

In 1948, several dozen monkeys escaped from the Dania Chimpanzee Farm. Most of them were recaptured, but some disappeared into a mangrove swamp between Port Everglades and Fort Lauderdale airport. Their descendants, about 41 in number, still live there today, according to the researchers who performed genetic analyses on feces samples, as well as tissue samples from monkeys killed by vehicles or power lines.

“Through interviews, historical archives, and popular media, we traced the monkeys to an escape from the Dania Chimpanzee Farm in 1948,” wrote the authors of the new study published in the journal Primates. “The facility imported primates from Africa for medical research purposes.”

This species, also known as the vervet monkey, is commonly referred to as a green monkey because of the color of its fur. Green monkeys are endemic to West Africa, ranging from Senegal and west Guinea-Bissau into Ghana.

The monkeys spend their days on a 1,500-acre plot of mangrove forest wedged between oil storage tanks, the port, and the Federal Highway. Their diet consists of red palm seeds, sea grapes, and lizards, along with the bananas, mangos, nuts, and other goodies offered by humans working or living nearby.

The genetic examination also revealed that before being brought to Florida, the colony’s forebears came from Africa. After these original members were brought to Dania Chimpanzee Farm, they were mainly sold for medical and military research, which was booming in the post-WWII era. For instance, Dr. Jonas Salk and Dr. Albert Sabin experimented on the monkeys for polio research while Johns Hopkins University used them to investigate tuberculosis. 

But regardless of where they came from, the monkeys are now an integral part of the local community.

“The community still loves them,” said Deborah “Missy” Williams, lead author of the study, who is in the FAU biological sciences department. “They care for them. They want them protected.”

Unfortunately, the long-term prospect of the colony looks bleak. Computer modeling suggests that the population will collapse and go extinct within 100 years.

Williams is one of the founders of the Dania Beach Vervet Project, whose mission is to protect the Florida monkeys and raise money to buy land for a sanctuary.

Besides green monkeys, Florida is home to two other introduced, free-ranging primates: Saimiri sciureus (squirrel monkey) and Macaca mulatta (rhesus macaque).

Florida men find mammoth bone while scuba diving

A 50-pound fossilized bone that initially belonged to a Columbian mammoth was discovered by a pack of amateur paleontologists last week while they were scuba diving in the Peace River in Arcadia, Southwest Florida.

Henry Sadler and Derek Demeter with the bone they discovered. Photos via Instagram.
Henry Sadler and Derek Demeter with the bone they discovered. Photos via Instagram.

The Orlando Sentinel first reported on the discovery of the bone by Derek Demeter and Henry Sadler. It weighs around 50 pounds, is 4 ft (1.21 m) in length, is currently believed to date back to the ice age, and belongs to one of the last mammoth species to roam North America.

Big Boned

“When I saw it, I couldn’t believe it. I was in denial. It was really neat to see that be discovered,” Demeter, the planetarium director at Seminole State College, told The Orlando Sentinel. “[Henry] came up, and he’s like, ‘Derek, I found something amazing,’ and he’s just freaking out.”

Although not yet properly examined, the bone — a humerus — seems to correspond to those of Columbian mammoths. This species’ habitat ranged from current-day Costa Rica to the northern U.S., where they roamed between 2.6 million and 10,000 years ago.

It was one of the last species of mammoth to live on Earth.

But let’s get back to our day. The lucky duo found several other bones on the same day. These include parts from an extinct shark lineage and the tooth of a saber-toothed tiger. Not ones to let their luck go to their heads, Henry and Derek donated these to the Florida Museum of Natural History, where they can be examined and displayed for the public to enjoy. The mammoth bone, however, they kept; it will be displayed in a local classroom, to accompany Henry — a science teacher at St. Petersburg’s Admiral Farragut Academy — while he teaches his classes.

“It’s currently sitting in the classroom where the kids are able to see it, touch it, feel it and really get a history of the natural world,” Sadler said.

This story goes to show that if you’re willing to pay attention to the environment around you, you might just be rewarded with some astonishing findings. Now, finding fossils thousands of years old just laying around on the floor probably isn’t very likely, but, objectively speaking, the odds are never quite zero. So don’t lose heart!

What’s the real US lightning capital? These researchers say it’s not Florida

For many years, Florida has been described as the lighting capital of the United States. Its unique location, surrounded by warm water, provides everything needed for thunderstorms to form – especially during the summer. The record has surprisingly never been disputed – until now.

Image credit: Flickr / Skyseeker

Vaisala, a Finnish environmental monitoring company, found that Oklahoma has had slightly more lightning bolts per square kilometer over the last five years. The margin was slim. Florida’s 82.8 strikes per kilometer over the last five years barely edged Oklahoma’s 83.4 flashes, according to Vaisala’s estimations. Still, it’s significant — and probably enough to crown Oklahoma as the lightning state.

The findings were shared by Chris Vagasky, a meteorologist and lightning applications manager at Vaisala. The results have surprised meteorologists in the US. Still, Vagasky argued that the numbers are so close together that makes it “hard to say” whether one state has taken over another one as the record holder in lightings. 

Vagasky told AccuWeather that the numbers paint a differing picture of how lightning is impacting each of these states. Vaisala’s National Lightning Detection Network registers about 95% of cloud-to-ground lightning flashes, and between 50% and 60% of in-cloud discharges – with data dating to the late 1980s in the US. 

“In Oklahoma, you’re getting a lot more in-cloud lightning, so you see a lot more of the lightning off in the distance,” Vagasky said. “Whereas in Florida you’re actually getting a little bit more of the cloud-to-ground lightning, which is the more dangerous type of lightning because it can impact people, plants, trees, houses and animals.”

Vagasky argued that Florida’s longtime reputation as the US lightning capital comes from the days when detection systems could only record cloud-to-ground lightning. But now, thanks to Vaisala’s detection technology, in-cloud strikes can trigger detection anywhere in the world. That’s why the top spot in the ranking has shifted. 

Florida is still very stormy

While Oklahoma gets fewer but larger storms with more lighting rates, Florida is known for its seemingly daily barrage of sea-breeze thunderstorms during the summertime. Most thunderstorms in Florida only last a half-hour to an hour but they generate turrets of cold air that can later produce additional storms. 

Vaisala’s data set showed that Oklahoma County, which includes Oklahoma City, averages 120.8 lighting events per square kilometer per year, or about 312.9 per square mile annually. Meanwhile, Orange County, Florida has 159 events per square kilometer per year. That’s 412.3 per square mile. 

Other interesting findings showed that Louisiana, for example, comes in third place of the ranking in the US, averaging 71.9 events per square kilometer per year. Alaska, which isn’t covered by the National Lightning Detection Network, wasn’t included in the study. Globally, Singapore is the lighting capital, with 127 events per square kilometer. 

“Vaisala owns and operates the global operating data set and we detect lightning pole to pole all around the world,” Vagasky toldAccuWeather. “A couple years ago we detected lightning just 32 miles away from the North Pole, so that probably woke up Santa’s reindeer at the time.”

Earth Networks, another environmental monitoring company that operates its own lightning detection network around the world, told The Washington Post that its data does not support Oklahoma as having overtaken Florida. In 2020, four of the top five most lightning-prone counties in the US were in Florida, according to Earth Networks.

Leaving rankings aside, lightings shouldn’t be ignored. A strike can injure or even kill an individual in a variety of ways, from direct strikes to ground currents to lesser-known types of lightning called sidewinders. The odds of being struck are one in 15,300 over the course of a lifetime (defined as 80 years) according to the National Weather Service.

Millions of genetically-modified mosquitoes will be deployed to save Floridians from bites

Florida will become home to 750 million genetically-modified mosquitoes. Local authorities have approved the release of these insects in a bid to bring down the numbers of local mosquito swarms.

Image via Pixabay.

Mosquitoes suck — more to the point, they suck our blood. Not only is this really annoying and itchy, it can also be dangerous: mosquitoes are carriers of diseases like dengue fever and Zika, which they spread by coming into contact with the blood in our veins.

Engineered to fail

Aedes aegypti, the most common type of mosquito and so the one most likely to be biting you in your sleep, is in fact an invasive species in Florida. They’re typically found near standing pools of water, where they lay their eggs and spend their larval days.

Because nobody has much love for them, we’ve come to rely on pesticides to keep them away or, ideally, very dead. But the insects have developed a resistance to such compounds.

In order to keep their numbers in check, Florida officials have approved the release of around 750 million genetically-modified mosquitoes into the wild. All these mosquitoes, known as OX5034, are males, and carry a special gene that will kill off any female offspring they have. Since only female mosquitoes need to bite for blood (which they use as nutrients for eggs), this would dramatically limit the threat they pose to public health.

This decision comes after the US Environmental Agency granted permission to Oxitec, a British-based company operated in the US, to produce these modified mosquitoes.

The approval of this release was not without its critics. Environmental groups warn that we don’t know enough about how such mosquitoes behave in the wild to know for sure that it’s safe to release them. Their biggest worries are the creation of hybrids between wild and modified mosquitoes, and possible damage to the ecosystems that these insects are part of. An online petition on Change.org that plans to stop the US being “a testing ground for these mutant bugs” has also gathered nearly 240,000 signatures so far.

Oxitec rebuts that the issue has been studied amply and that the release should go without a hitch. Either way, the insects are set to be released in 2021 in the Florida Keys islands.

This isn’t the first time that modified mosquitoes have been used to try and control wild populations. They were previously also used in Brazil to combat Zika, and Oxitec said the results of that experiment were “positive”. It plans to also deploy the mosquitoes in Texas beginning sometime next year — although the company hasn’t gotten state or local approval as yet, it did receive the green light on the federal level.

“We have released over a billion of our mosquitoes over the years. There is no potential for risk to the environment or humans,” an Oxitec scientist told AP news agency.

Florida’s birds of prey are full of microplastics

A new study from the University of Central Florida (UCF) has found, for the first time, microplastics in terrestrial and aquatic birds of prey in the state.

Image credits Harry Burgess.

Some of the birds in whose digestive systems the team found microplastics include hawks, ospreys, and owls. The accumulation of such material can lead to starvation and poisoning, either of which can be life-threatening. The findings are particularly worrying because birds of prey are critical to a functioning ecosystem, the authors note.

A bird’s gut view

“Birds of prey are top predators in the ecosystem and by changing the population or health status of the top predator, it completely alters all of the animals, organisms and habitats below them on the food web,” says Julia Carlin, the study’s lead author and a graduate of UCF’s Department of Biology.

Microplastics are pieces of plastic that are under 5 mm in length, produced from the breaking down of larger pieces of plastic such as synthetic clothes, or that are purposely-made for use in industry, or for health and beauty products.

Plastic ingestion by wildlife was first noted in the 1960s, the team explains, adding that microplastic ingestion has come under increased scrutiny since 2010. Since then, microplastics have been found in the guts of fish, marine birds, filter-feeding invertebrates such as oysters, and humans.

Birds of prey, however, have not been studied for microplastic ingestion due to their protected status.

For the study, the team worked with the Audubon Center for Birds of Prey in Maitland, Florida where injured raptor birds are nursed back to health. This gave them a unique opportunity to study the stomach contents of 63 birds found across Florida that were dead when they arrived at the center or died 24 hours after they arrived.

Microplastics were found in the digestive systems of all the examined birds, totalling nearly 1,200 pieces of plastic. The most common microplastics found were microfibers (86%), which come from synthetic ropes and fabrics, and can be released into the environment from clothes-washing.

The most common colors seen were blue and clear, which the team says is likely caused by the birds confusing these colors with prey or materials that would be useful for nesting.

As for solutions, the team says removing plastic waste from open landfills (so birds can’t pick them up), retrofitting water treatment installations to capture microplastics, and switching to natural fibers in the clothing industry could all help.

The paper “Microplastic accumulation in the gastrointestinal tracts in birds of prey in central Florida, USA” has been published in the journal Environmental Pollution.

Coronavirus in Hawaii — live updates, cases, and news

Coronavirus cases and fatalities in Hawaii

A regularly-updated map of confirmed COVID-19 cases, borough by borough.

The number is based on confirmed diagnostic tests. It is very likely that the true number of COVID-19 cases is higher as many cases are asymptomatic.

New COVID-19 cases and fatalities per day in Hawaii

This is a good indicator of “flattening the curve” — when there is a steady decreasing trend, it is an indicator that the spread of the disease is slowing down.


If you’d like to use these graphs and maps on your site or articles, please e-mail us.

Watch for symptoms

Reported illnesses have ranged from mild symptoms to severe illness and death for confirmed coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) cases.

These symptoms may appear 2-14 days after exposure (based on the incubation period of MERS-CoV viruses).

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath

Why are we seeing a rise in cases?

The number of cases of COVID-19 being reported in the United States is rising due to increased laboratory testing and reporting across the country. The growing number of cases in part reflects the rapid spread of COVID-19 as many U.S. states and territories experience community spread. More detailed and accurate data will allow us to better understand and track the size and scope of the outbreak and strengthen prevention and response efforts.

CDC recommendations

Due to widespread transmission in California, CDC recommends expanded and laser focused community mitigation activities to help slow the spread of respiratory virus infections including the novel coronavirus SARS-C0V-2, the cause of the disease COVID-19.

These approaches are used to minimize morbidity and mortality of COVID-19 as well as to minimize the social and economic impacts of COVID-19. Individuals, communities, businesses, and healthcare organizations are all part of a community mitigation strategy.

The focus is on protecting the health care system with expected rise in cases by slowing the spread within the community and focused on protecting the vulnerable members of the community.

Coronavirus in Hawaii News:

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Coronavirus in Florida — live updates, cases, and news

Coronavirus cases and fatalities in Florida

A regularly-updated map of confirmed COVID-19 cases, borough by borough.

The number is based on confirmed diagnostic tests. It is very likely that the true number of COVID-19 cases is higher as many cases are asymptomatic.

New COVID-19 cases and fatalities per day in Florida

This is a good indicator of “flattening the curve” — when there is a steady decreasing trend, it is an indicator that the spread of the disease is slowing down.


If you’d like to use these graphs and maps on your site or articles, please e-mail us.

Cases, updates, and charts on the coronavirus crisis for each US state and territory. Just follow the links below.

District of Columbia
New Hampshire
New Jersey
New Mexico
New York
North Carolina
North Dakota
Northern Mariana Islands
Puerto Rico
Rhode Island
South Carolina
South Dakota
Virgin Islands
West Virginia

How do I prevent and prepare for COVID-19?

There is currently no vaccine to prevent coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). The best way to prevent illness is to avoid being exposed to the virus (and avoid exposing other people). Here’s how:

Practice social distancing

If you are around other people, keep 6 feet between you when possible. Avoid hugs, handshakes, large gatherings and close quarters. 

Why? The virus is thought to spread mainly from person-to-person. When someone coughs or sneezes, they spray small liquid droplets from their nose or mouth, which may contain the virus. If you are too close, you can breathe in the droplets, including the coronavirus if the person coughing has the disease.

Clean your hands often

Wash your hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Or use a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. 

Clean your hands especially after you have been in a public place, or after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing. 

Why? Washing your hands with soap and water or using alcohol-based hand sanitizer kills viruses that may be on your hands.

Avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth

Why? Hands touch many surfaces and can pick up viruses. Once contaminated, hands can transfer the virus to your eyes, nose or mouth. 

Cover coughs and sneezes

Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze or use the inside of your elbow. Throw used tissues in the trash.

Why? Droplets spread the virus. By following good respiratory hygiene, you protect the people around you from viruses such as cold, flu and COVID-19.

Clean and disinfect “high-touch” surfaces

Clean AND disinfect frequently touched surfaces daily. This includes tables, doorknobs, light switches, countertops, handles, desks, phones, keyboards, toilets, faucets, and sinks.

If surfaces are dirty, first clean with detergent or soap and water, and then disinfect. Most common EPA-registered household disinfectants, diluted household bleach solutions, and alcohol solutions with at least 70% alcohol will work. See how to make a bleach solution if disinfectants are not available.

Watch for symptoms

Reported illnesses have ranged from mild symptoms to severe illness and death for confirmed coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) cases.

These symptoms may appear 2-14 days after exposure (based on the incubation period of MERS-CoV viruses).

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath

Why are we seeing a rise in cases?

The number of cases of COVID-19 being reported in the United States is rising due to increased laboratory testing and reporting across the country. The growing number of cases in part reflects the rapid spread of COVID-19 as many U.S. states and territories experience community spread. More detailed and accurate data will allow us to better understand and track the size and scope of the outbreak and strengthen prevention and response efforts.

CDC recommendations

Due to widespread transmission in California, CDC recommends expanded and laser focused community mitigation activities to help slow the spread of respiratory virus infections including the novel coronavirus SARS-C0V-2, the cause of the disease COVID-19.

These approaches are used to minimize morbidity and mortality of COVID-19 as well as to minimize the social and economic impacts of COVID-19. Individuals, communities, businesses, and healthcare organizations are all part of a community mitigation strategy.

The focus is on protecting the health care system with expected rise in cases by slowing the spread within the community and focused on protecting the vulnerable members of the community.

Coronavirus in Florida News:

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Hurricane Dorian devastates Bahamas, reaches Florida

Hurricane Dorian slammed into Florida with 110mph winds after devastating the Bahamas. Americans in its path told to leave their homes and remain vigilant over the upcoming days.

Credit: Flickr

The mega-storm reached 225mph as it hovered over the Caribbean, killing at least seven people and causing massive destruction of homes, crippling hospitals and forcing people to take cover in attics.

It has now moved on to the US mainland, sparking a mass evacuation with more than two million people in Florida, Georgia and North and South Carolina being told to flee. It began moving up the shore with its eye passing 95 miles east of Cape Canaveral in the early hours of this morning.

But even if the storm’s epicenter doesn’t make landfall, Americans were warned the storm surge would likely cause severe flooding up the east coast.

“All interests from northeast Florida to the Carolinas should remain vigilant to the possibility of experiencing destructive winds, flooding rains, and life-threatening storm surges from this hurricane,” the hurricane center said.

Hurricane-force winds extend up to 60 miles from its center, while tropical-storm-force winds can be felt up to 175 miles from the core. The US coast from north of West Palm Beach, Florida, through Georgia, is expected to get up to nine inches of rainfall in places.

Across the southeastern US, motorways leading away from beaches in South Carolina and Georgia were turned into one-way evacuation routes. Several airports announced closings, and 823 flights within, into and out of the U.S. were so far canceled, according to FlightAware, an aviation data company.

In Florida, Walt Disney World closed its four theme parks by mid-afternoon on Tuesday amid fears for tourist safety, vowing to reopen today. Universal Orlando Resort also closed its theme parks early for the day because of the threat of the vicious storm.

Whatever the exact tract that the hurricane takes in the coming days, “life-threatening storm surge and dangerous winds” are expected along with parts of Florida’s east coast and Georgia and the Carolinas, the hurricane center said.

Dorian smashed into the Bahamas on Monday as a 225mph category 5 Hurricane that parked over the area.  Prime Minister Hubert Minnis told reporters the latest death count of seven included two people who were injured earlier and taken to New Providence Island.

Minnis said he flew over the Abaco Islands and expects to do the same in Grand Bahama as soon as the weather clears. In Abaco, he saw groups of desperate and trapped people waving yellow sheets and shirts. He said 60 percent of homes were damaged in Marsh Harbor.

Staghorn coral.

Miami dredging caused “extensive coral mortality and critical habitat loss” for the US’ only continental reef

Researchers at the University of Miami (UM) Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science say that local reefs have suffered extensive damage from sediment plumes stirred up by the 16-month dredging operation at the Port of Miami.

Sediment plume.

Natural sediment plumes from the Mississippi River (right) and the Atchafalaya River (left).
Image credits NASA.

The team estimates that over half a million corals were killed — those that lived within 550 yards (500 meters) of the dredged channel. Dredging operations, which involve clearing the seabed by scooping out mud, weeds, and rubbish with a dredge, seem to have impacted more than 15 miles (25 kilometers) of Florida’s reef tract, resulting in widespread coral death.

Deadly dredging

“Coral reefs worldwide are facing severe declines from climate change,” said Andrew Baker, associate professor of marine biology and ecology at the UM Rosenstiel School and senior author of the study. “If we want to conserve these ecosystems for the generations that come after us, it’s essential that we do all we can to conserve the corals we still have left.”

“These climate survivors may hold the key to understanding how some corals can survive global changes. We have to start locally by doing all we can to protect our remaining corals from impacts, like dredging, that we have the ability to control or prevent.”

Dredging operations at the Port of Miami began in 2013 as part of a larger construction effort in the area. The team analyzed data that was originally collected by consultants as part of the dredge’s environmental monitoring program. This program did note the loss of coral in the area but wrote it off as the consequence of a coral disease that was making a region-wide outbreak at the same time.

The present research ruled out disease by controlling for its impacts: the team looked at losses in coral species that were known to be immune to the outbreak. They tested whether corals closer to the dredge site were more likely to die during the dredging period than those further away. Most of the documented coral losses near the Port of Miami were the result of dredging, the team found.

Staghorn coral.

Staghorn coral, a species of coral in the Florida Reef.
Image via Wikimedia.

“It was important to differentiate these multiple impacts occurring on the reefs to understand the direct effects of dredging specifically,” said lead author Ross Cunning, who began the project while a postdoctoral scientist at the UM Rosenstiel School and is now a research biologist at the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago.

“We brought together all the available data from satellites, sediment traps, and hundreds of underwater surveys. Together, the multiple, independent datasets clearly show that dredging caused the major damages observed on these reefs.”

The team also looked at sediment plumes, which are clouds of suspended sediment stirred up by the dredges — the team reports they’re big enough to be seen from space — and whether they could predict the damage observed on the reefs below. It turns out that they could; the team says that the satellite-tracked plumes had a very high correlation with coral death on the seafloor. This is the first study to show that satellite data can be reliably used to predict dredging impacts on corals and their habitats.

“This connection allowed us to predict impacts beyond where ship-based monitoring was taking place, and showed that dredging likely damaged this reef several kilometers away,” said study co-author Brian Barnes of the University of South Florida.

“While this same relationship may not apply in all projects, this is a remarkable finding that further establishes Earth-observing satellites as independent monitoring tools to fill in gaps where data are otherwise not available.”

Rachel Silverstein, executive director and waterkeeper of Miami Waterkeeper and a co-author of the study says the study uncovered a “devastating story of loss that we cannot afford to ignore any longer.” She hopes that the team’s findings can be used to guide restoration efforts and to prevent similar tragedies in the future.

Florida can boast the only nearshore reef in the continental United States, but its coral cover has declined by at least 70% since the 1970s, the team explains. Some species in this reef — Staghorn corals (Acropora cervicornis), which were once common in shallow water and have declined by an estimated 98% — are now listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. The sites directly adjacent to the dredge site have been designated as “critical habitat” for the staghorn corals.

The paper “Extensive coral mortality and critical habitat loss following dredging and their association with remotely-sensed sediment plumes,” has been published in the journal Marine Pollution Bulletin.


Efforts ramp up to heal Florida’s manatees amid algal blood

As Florida counties issue states of emergency in response to red tide, researchers are trying new options to save manatees from its deadly effects.


Image credits U.S. Geological Survey / Flickr.

Algal blooms known as ‘red tide’ have been wreaking havoc along Florida’s coast for the past few months. These blooms — usually the product of several types of phytoplankton and dinoflagellates — in this case Karenia brevis — are quite deadly for other sea life. They can cause massive damage to fish and are toxic (potentially deadly) to sea turtles, birds, and marine mammals such as manatees.

In a bid to save the latter, researchers at the Florida International University (FIU), in coalition with Mote Marine Laboratory, are racing against the clock to neutralize the algae’s toxic output with a new treatment.

Red manatees

Red tides accounted for 10% of all manatee deaths over the last decade, the team writes. The current bloom event could push that figure in excess of 30%, however.

Finding those numbers unacceptable, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s ECOHAB program offered a $428,000 grant to the FIU and Mote to improve veterinary care for rescued manatees affected by the Florida red tide.

Current treatments — which rely on anti-inflammatory compounds — just don’t cut it, the team explains. So the team aims to study cellular immune responses of the mammal to a wide range of antioxidant treatments. This new approach should help the manatees heal through the adverse effects of red tide. If it proves efficient with the manatees, the team explains, such treatment could be expanded to other species of marine wildlife “including dolphins, turtles, and birds”.

“The current approach is simply to give palliative care and wait for them to clear the toxin and get better,” explained Kathleen Rein, the FIU chemist that is leading the research team in tandem with colleague Cathy Walsh, a marine immunology expert at Mote’s labs.

The manatee, while hard-pressed, has had a couple of good years lately. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently advanced the West Indian manatee (Trichechus manatus), which includes the Florida manatee, from ‘endangered’ status to ‘threatened’. The action came about a month after Florida officials said that for the third straight year, spotters counted more than 6,000 manatees.

The latest red wave in Florida, however, could undo all the progress the manatees have made — the bloom has claimed over 103 individuals so far, almost 18% of all manatee deaths in the area.

“The need for better treatment is underscored by the current, long-lasting bloom of Florida red tide and its intense impacts on Florida manatees,” Walsh said.

With the current red tide bloom being the worst the state has endured since 2005, the situation is critical. Conservationists are also worried about a possible loosening of regulations regarding species conservation under the current administration.

Miami launches bacteria-infected mosquitoes to fight Zika virus

The Miami-Dade County website released a statement which announces that the Wolbachia infected mosquitoes will be released in South Miami to combat Zika virus.

Credits: Pixabay/ekamelev

These mosquitoes are lab-grown by the Kentucky-based company MosquitoMate. The test is in collaboration with the Miami-Dade County Mosquito Control and Habitat Management Division.

Wolbachia is a naturally-occurring bacterium present in up to 60 percent of all the different species of insects around us, mosquitoes included. Researchers discovered that when infected male mosquitoes mated with non-infected females, the eggs did not hatch, hence reducing mosquito populations.

These Male mosquitoes do not bite (they feed on pollen) and are friendly to the environment by increasing pollination.

A one-half-square-mile treatment area and a similarly-sized control area will be designated within the City of South Miami. Surveys of the Aedes aegypti populations will be taken before and after weekly or twice-weekly treatments.

Successful trials in Kentucky, California, and New York have been carried out by MosquitoMate. Scientists registered significant reduction of Aedes aegypti female populations. The reduction only affected this species of mosquitoes.

Last spring, a similar trial took place in Key West but ended prematurely due to Hurricane Irma’s landfall. The results are still pending.


Miami Beach mosquitoes are carrying Zika, tests confirm

Miami Beach mosquitoes have tested positive for the Zika Virus, Florida state officials announced on Thursday. The findings confirm that the virus is still active in the area.

Thee cases of Zika-carrying mosquito larva have been identified in Miami Beach
Image credits Rob Cruickshank / Flickr.

The carrier mosquito for Zika, Aedes aegypti, is notoriously hard to fight — and very prolific. To get a better understanding of how the virus spread through the aegypti population, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (DACS) set up traps and tested the insects in several points of the state — a process which the experts likened to looking for a needle in a haystack.

Still, three samples they tested came out positive for the Zika virus, all collected in a 1.5 square-mile area in Miami Beach where locally acquired cases of Zika have been previously confirmed.

Scott Weaver, the director of the Institute for Human Infections and Immunity at the University of Texas Medical Branch, said that the significance of the findings depends on the point of collection. If the mosquitoes were caught in or around the houses of people with active infections, the results aren’t alarming. But if they were taken from a more distant point, it would be indicative of the virus spreading.

We can’t find out, though — a spokeswoman of the Florida DACS said that they were prevented from disclosing the traps’ location because of state legislature. The department did reveal in a statement that since May it has tested over 2,470 mosquito samples, consisting of more than 40,000 mosquitoes. The three cases announced on Thursday were the first to test positive.

Florida is the only state in the continental US where Zika is active, but its habitat is spreading. The first cases were reported in Wynwood, a Miami neighborhood. The outbreak here seems to have subsided, but a new cluster of cases was discovered in Miami Beach on Aug. 18, and the CDC issued an official warning to pregnant women to avoid the area — in most cases, Zika only causes rashes and joint pain, but it’s extremely dangerous if contacted by pregnant women. The virus can cause severe brain defects in fetuses, a condition known as microcephaly. The CDC is tracking more than 1,500 cases of pregnant women who have been infected with Zika and at least 16 babies have been born with birth defects so far.

However, experts say that it’s unlikely Zika will see the same explosive spread in the US as in Latin America or the Caribbean, because of better living conditions — Americans live in less crowded conditions and usually have window screens and air conditioning, which hinder the mosquitoes. In total, there have been 45 confirmed homegrown cases of Zika in Miami-Dade County.

“The good news is the weekly number of new cases isn’t changing much,” Dr. Weaver said. “If we were seeing at first five cases a week, then 10, then 20 and then 100, we’d be very concerned.”

Miami Beach also hasn’t been targeted with the same aerial spraying efforts which have proven effective in Wynwood, partly because of its high buildings and partly because of opposition from residents.

But experts say aerial spraying there is possible, and on Thursday, Gov. Rick Scott said the C.D.C. had recommended that Miami Beach be sprayed using helicopters. He said the state had made funds available “to immediately conduct aerial spraying in Miami Beach.”

But it was not clear when that might happen. Michael Grieco, a Miami Beach city commissioner, said: “No determination has been made. It’s not really practical with all the geography.”

In the meantime, residents should invest in a chicken to sleep with — it might save you a lot of trouble in the long run.

Florida’s coastlines are choke-full with guacamole-like algae blooms

algae bloom

Credit: Flickr user eutrophication&hypoxia

South Florida’s coasts are being choked by smelly, green algae blooms after excess water from Lake Okeechobee was released into the ocean. The lake has been contaminated with unprecedented levels of toxins after the government pumped polluted runoff into it to curb flooding in the area. Residents blame the federal government, state water managers and Florida Gov. Rick Scott for yet another spiraling environmental catastrophe.

First sightings of the blooms were reported in June, and since then they’ve been spreading — prompting the state of Florida to declare a state of emergency for Martin and St. Lucie counties on Wednesday, extended to Palm Beach and Lee counties on the western coast on Tuesday. The algae have given south Florida residents rashes and coughs and are consuming all the oxygen in the water, threatening the bio-diverse area. The scale of the blooms makes them look like oil spills on aerial photographs — only greener, and gooier.

“This is our Deep Water Horizon,” Doug Smith, a commissioner in Martin County, told the Palm Beach Post, referencing the devastating BP oil spill in 2010.

The blooms have grown to huge proportions. Martin, St. Lucie and Palm Beach counties alone stretch for nearly 100 miles along the Atlantic coast, so how did the algae grow so fast? These counties, along with Lee County are all connected through various rivers, canals or estuaries to the state’s largest body of fresh water, Lake Okeechobee.

And this lake seems to be the cause. In the wake of a year with heavy rainfall — enough to cover the city of Delaware in two feet of water — the government was forced to “back-pump” billions of gallons of polluted runoff into the lake to save crops and prevent further flooding. As Lake Okeechobee began to overflow, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dumped the excess water into the waterways that connect the lake with the coast to protect the neighbouring towns from life-threatening flooding.

But then Lake Okeechobee began to overflow as well, forcing the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the federal agency charged with monitoring water levels, to make a tough decision. It could open a series of levees surrounding the lake and dump the excess water into rivers and estuaries that lead to the coast, or it could let the lake continue to rise, putting thousands of people and the towns they live in at risk for life-threatening flooding.

The mineral-rich waters of the lake allowed the algae to bloom uncontrollably, and now the area’s ecosystems are buckling under their weight. In the Executive Order he issued Thursday to declare a state of emergency, governor Rick Scott blamed the federal government for the crisis.

The lake is surrounded by the Herbert Hoover Dike, a wall of natural materials like soil, rock and shells, that has fallen into disrepair. It was designed for a water level of 18 feet above sea level but to prevent a breach, the Corps of Engineers tries to maintain the water level between 12.5 and 15.5 feet above sea level, the Washington Post writes.

“[Had funding been provided] the Corps would not have been required to discharge approximately 30 billion gallons of flood waters from Lake Okeechobee to the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee Rivers and estuaries,” the governor said in his executive order.

But as he has yet to visit the area himself, residents are blaming the governor and his administration for not doing enough to solve the problem. Together with Martin County commissioners, they’ve called on the Corps of Engineers to reduce the flow of water it has been pumping out of Lake Okeechobee, and recently gained support from Florida senators. The Corps announced it would begin a “pulse release” that will reduce output levels.

“… After visiting with local elected officials in Martin County yesterday and viewing the algae first hand, we felt compelled to take action, even though we need to remain vigilant in managing the level of Lake Okeechobee,” Col. Jason Kirk, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Jacksonville District Commander, said in a press release.

Following a visit in the area this week, Sen. Nelson said the issue shouldn’t fall just on the shoulders of the federal government. He called on the state legislature to spend money on environmental projects already approved by Florida voters, reported the WP, including the purchase of land surrounding Lake Okeechobee for water storage instead of diverting funds to pay for administrative costs.

I would urge everyone to remember that the first priority shouldn’t be to decide who’s at fault for this situation, but figuring out how to go about fixing it. There’s enough time for finger pointing after the ocean stops looking like chunky guacamole.


Nile Crocodile enters Florida, researchers find

Scientists from the University of Florida have mate a startling discovery: Nile Crocodiles are now in Florida, infiltrating local populations in the Everglades. They warn that these crocs are extremely dangerous, and can injure or kill humans.

Nile crocodile in Gulu, Uganda. Photo by Tim Muttoo

The Nile Crocodile (Crocodylus niloticus) is an African crocodile and the second largest reptile in the world, after the saltwater crocodile. It can grow up to 5.5 metres (18 feet) in length and was blamed for at least 480 attacks on people and 123 fatalities in Africa between 2010 and 2014. Another report claims that the Nile crocodile kills hundreds of people each year. Either way, this is definitely a species which can be dangerous, much more dangerous than native alligators.

DNA analysis has confirmed that at least three juveniles are part of the Nile species, linked to crocodiles from South Africa. Kenneth Krysko, a herpetology collections manager at the Florida Museum of Natural History told the journal Herpetological Conservation and Biology that the species can survive and potentially thrive in sub-tropical Florida.

“The odds that the few of us who study Florida reptiles have found all of the Nile crocs out there is probably unlikely. We know that they can survive in the Florida wilderness for numerous years, we know that they grow quickly here and we know their behaviour in their native range, and there is no reason to suggest that would change here in Florida.”

Crocodylus niloticus is considered a generalist predator which can feast on pretty much all types of meat. They can certainly adapt to Florida’s environment, munching down birds and mammals. Researchers don’t know where these crocs came from, but pet owners are the likely cause. According to the Guardian, large groups of Nile crocodiles have been imported from South Africa and Madagascar, both for display at places such as Disney’s Animal Kingdom, and to supply Florida’s pet trade.

It’s not the first time Florida is dealing with invasive species; on the contrary, the state is one of the most invaded areas in the world. The spiny lionfish has destroyed reef-dwelling fish across the Caribbean, the Cuban tree frog has also taken out many native specimens, and recently, the Burmese python has become so common that Florida is authorizing python hunts.

“My hope as a biologist is that the introduction of Nile crocodiles in Florida opens everyone’s eyes to the problem of invasive species that we have here in our state,” Krysko said. “Now here’s another one, but this time it isn’t just a tiny house gecko from Africa.”


Florida quarantines farmlands to contain the Oriental Fruit Fly

Florida’s farmlands are under attack by a highly destructive pest, the Oriental Fruit Fly, and authorities have quarantined some 85 square miles of land and the food grown there in an effort to contain the insect.

The invasive species was first detected a few weeks ago near Miami. Authorities have since banned the transport of most fruits and vegetables from the Redland, — part of Miami-Dade County, named after the pockets of clay that dot the land — one of America’s most productive agricultural stretches of land. Boasting a fertile soil and a year-round growing season due to its tropical climate, farms here produce everything from tomatoes to papaya that are sold all over the country.

Buuzzzzzzzzzz, not anymore, buuuzzzzz.
Image via wikipedia

In recent years, tropical fruit sales have seen a steady rise, with new varieties such as dragon fruit (originally from Asia) or mamey (a Central American crop) becoming available to a much wider range of consumers. Florida has been cashing in on locally growing these exotic treats, the agricultural industry here being valued at a hefty US$ 700 million — but as operations manager at J and C Tropicals Salvador Fernandez walks into one of the six coolers his company operates, that industry seems very close to a dangerous fall.

“It’s usually full,” he says, “especially at this time of year, because we do truckloads of mamey and avocado and passion fruit and dragon fruit.”

The storage coolers are empty, while fruit ripens and rots in the company’s orchards. Two weeks ago, agriculture officials froze production in much of the Redland farming area after they detected the Oriental fruit fly. The quarantine was imposed just as growers were beginning to harvest tropical fruit crops. Fernandez can’t say how much it’s all likely to cost.

“We estimated that we have mamey alone about 500,000 pounds left on the trees,” he says. “[As for] dragon fruit, that leaves 20 million pounds on the trees potentially.”

Florida’s agriculture commissioner, Adam Putnam, has declared a state of emergency and ordered fruit stripped and destroyed in areas where the flies have been found. All kinds of tropical fruit were affected, including sapodilla, guava and passion fruit. Traditional market crops like tomatoes, bell peppers, beans and squash are also in for a rough start, as the quarantine was enforced when the crops should have been planted.

Inspectors have found about 160 Oriental fruit flies so far. But counts have been dropping, which may be a sign the eradication measures are working. But even a population as small as this gives the authorities reasons for concern: what makes the Oriental fruit fly so devastating, Putnam says, is that it affects more than 400 crops.

“[The fruit fly] feeds on the fruit. It pierces it, lays its eggs, causes obviously a very unpleasant condition in that fruit when those eggs are laid in there.”

Past experience with this fly thought the farmers how destructive they can become, but it also left them well equipped to deal with them — Florida has seen 75 fruit fly incursions over the past 90 years, and has eradicated them every time. Paul Hornby with the U.S. Department of Agriculture says scientists and farmers have a great deal of experience with fruit flies, both the Oriental variety and their Mediterranean cousins, and that it’s only a matter of time before the crops recover.

“I’m extremely confident we’ll get our arms around this, and hopefully, within a matter of a few months, we’ll be out of the situation,” Hornby says.

At J&C Tropicals, Salvador Fernandez is working to save some of his tropical fruit by irradiating it before sending it to market. That’s approved by federal and state authorities, but it’s costly. With a drought and another pest that’s hit the avocado crop, it’s been a tough year for growers, and time might be something they might not have. If authorities don’t eradicate the fruit fly soon, Fernandez says there will be serious consequences for the industry.

“There’s a lot of growers that will go bankrupt,” he says. “There’s a lot of people they just don’t have the cash flow to sustain these kind of losses.” Fernandez says he’s already received calls from four growers who told him they want to sell their farms.

A fifth of Florida’s pumas were killed in car collisions


There are less than 100 pumas left in Florida’s wilds, and 17 were killed in collisions with cars, which is even more than in 2008 (when 10 such magnificent creatures found their death after being hit by a car) and 2007 (15). For me, it’s absolutely heart breaking to see this happening.

You’d expect people to learn, after panther numbers were down to just 20-30 in 1990. It took some serious efforts to raise their numbers by almost 10 times, but the future is once again looking dire for the felines.


“If we don’t do something quickly to reduce the risks to Florida’s panthers as they move around in search of food, mates and territory, then we are facing loss of this iconic species,” said a member from Defenders of Wildlife. “The panther found dead yesterday should serve as a sobering reminder that we all have to do our part to protect the Florida panther and watch out for wildlife while we drive through their habitat.”

They also proposed some good ideas on how this could be stopped, which you can read on their site.