Welcome to the Sunshine State Sampler, the Marjorie’s monthly roundup of Florida’s environmental news in bite-sized bits. Check out the links to learn more about what’s going on in your region!
- A new bill now in the House Commerce Committee could expand upon how Escambia County, and others around the state, spends tourist development tax revenues. The new bill would devote a portion of these revenues to pay for estuary and lagoon restorations. However, opposition says the money should go toward marketing and attracting visitors to the area.
- In an effort to protect the naval base in Pensacola from increasing boat traffic, the Navy has asked the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to approve five new boating regulatory zones, which would require boaters to slow down.
- Representatives in Navarre are still fighting for a pass to let boaters through to the Gulf , which they say will increase development in their county. Right now, the closest passes are 24 miles to the east and west in Pensacola and Destin. However environmentalists say the pass will cause beach erosion and the military says increased boat traffic could compromise security.
- Firefighters with the Florida Forest Service responded to 11 wildfires in late January throughout Escambia, Santa Rosa and Okaloosa counties. One of the fires destroyed multiple unoccupied structures.
- A public comment period is open until March 2 to offer feedback on the RESTORE Act’s spending plan which includes $12.6 million to clean up Bayou Chico in Escambia County and another $12.6 million to improve water quality in Santa Rosa Sound.
- The fish hatchery saga in Escambia County continues.The Pensacola Community Redevelopment Agency has teamed up with the city and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to file a motion to dismiss a lawsuit filed by two homeowners. The homeowners who filed the suit say the lease for a planned fish hatchery in downtown Pensacola is invalid. The CRA says the lawsuit should be dismissed because the homeowners have no ground to sue.
- Looking for practical farming knowledge? UF/IFAS is hosting the Panhandle Fruit and Vegetable Conference on February 19-20 at the University of West Florida.
- Sea turtles need darkness to find their way to the ocean. As of 2018, all residents on Pensacola Beach must now comply with the Exterior Turtle Lighting Ordinance.
- Did you survive the Panhandle’s harsh winter? Make a fashion statement by purchasing an “I survived the blizzard of ‘18” shirt.
- Leon County has welcomed a new trailhead, St. Marks Headwaters Greenway, which offers three miles of horseback riding, biking and hiking trails.
- Define “experience:” The Tampa Bay Times reports Governor Scott’s recent appointees to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission have little to no experience in wildlife conservation. One pick is a former Presbyterian minister and public relations president in the Villages; another is a former pro golfer and golf course designer whose father proposed to build golf courses in state parks. Both have ties to Florida’s Republican establishment.
- To drill or not to drill: Earlier this month, concerns over offshore drilling off Florida were reignited after Donald Trump promised to expand these activities. In what has been a roller coaster for Floridians, the state was thought to be exempted, and then reinstated for consideration. Thanks to grassroots movements across the state, Florida has taken a strong stance against offshore drilling off her coasts, citing concerns over impacts to tourism and other industries.
- So bring in the troops: Each of Florida’s 29 lawmakers has signed onto a letter urging Defense Secretary James Mattis to take a stand opposing oil and gas drilling off Florida’s coasts. The letter points to sensitive military operations in the Gulf, which would be impeded by oil and gas activities. Despite assurance from Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke that Florida is “off the table,” the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) has not made a final decision.
- …speaking of which: The BOEM is hosting only one public meeting in Florida about proposed offshore drilling activities. The public is encouraged to attend to voice its opinion.
- The Alachua County Commission passed a hotly-debated wetlands protection ordinance on Tuesday, despite pushback from smaller municipalities that fear it will obstruct development plans. The stronger protections are geared towards improving water quality and safeguarding wetlands.
- Florida’s national parks and federally managed areas were partially closed during the government shutdown. Many employees were furloughed for the duration.
- In a blow to the St. Johns Riverkeeper, a federal judge rejected the organizations attempt to temporarily halt JAXPORT’s dredging of the St. Johns River. The Riverkeeper cited outdated and insufficient impact reports. It will be able to legally challenge JAXPORT again in the future.
- Despite promising industrial gains for renewable energy over the last several years, President Trump has slapped tariffs on imported solar panels. Florida solar energy companies are bracing for the potentially destructive fallout.
- Case in point: In an op-ed to the Gainesville Sun, Dr. Robert Knight accuses UF’s three-year study on Silver Springs and Silver River of delaying restorative action and buying time for harmful development. Knight, director of the Howard T. Odum Springs Institute, commends researchers on their dedicated analyses of the springs ecosystems, but calls the lengthy study a distraction from degrading environmental practices. “Tragically,” Knight writes, “this tactic gave the district governing board the time and cover they needed to pass a highly flawed minimum flow rule and issue another groundwater pumping permit to Sleepy Creek that will result in further harmful flow reductions at Silver Springs.”
- No more Mr. Nice Guy: A recent study on Silver Springs’ resident rhesus macaques shows the monkeys carry a herpes virus that could potentially be transmitted to humans. The oft-loved, oft-reviled population is a constant concern for wildlife managers. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission says it has plans to permanently remove the rhesus macaques as a result.
- The north Florida Springs Environmental Center is holding an hour-long class about springs stresses (groundwater pumping, fertilizers, wastewater disposal, and recreation). It will be led by Florida Springs Institute Executive Director, Dr. Robert Knight. This is class is open to the public. Suggested donation is $5.
- The site where a Sanford dry cleaner formerly stood has been flagged by the Environmental Protection Agency as a one of 31 Superfund sites nationwide with the greatest potential for redevelopment.
- More than 2,000 damaged boats have been retrieved from Florida waterways since Hurricane Irma, with half a dozen federal and state agencies involved in the effort.
- The Gulf Shellfish Institute, a non-profit focused on facilitating the production of shellfish, has settled in Manatee County. The institute is working with UF IFAS, Florida Sea Grant and Manatee County on multiple research initiatives on topics such as algal blooms and restoration.
- Researchers from Global Ocean Oxygen Network, including a USF professor, have found evidence suggesting that climate change affects oxygen levels in the Gulf of Mexico and other coastal waters.
- Oceanic whitetip sharks move with extreme efficiency by utilizing hunting and downtime in an optimal way, according to a team led by FIU marine scientist Yannis Papastamatiou.
- Researchers at Florida Atlantic University have received a $500,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to develop a software that can facilitate real-time undersea wireless communications and surveillance. The four-year project will involve creating a network between autonomous undersea vehicles, autonomous water-surface vehicles, unmanned aerial vehicles and satellites.
- Citizens across Florida are beginning to take a more active role in climate-change issues through promoting education and organizing advocacy groups.
- A Hillsborough County man died in mid-January while diving in the Eagle’s Nest, an underwater network of caves in the Chassahowitzka Wildlife Management Area. At least 11 others have died while diving in these caves since 1981.
- Several Florida parks were affected by the federal government shutdown this month. This included closures at the Big Cypress National Preserve and the western gateway to the Everglades National Park.
- A 208-unit rental complex in Big Coppitt Key received a potential contribution of $2.5 million to development more affordable housing in the Lower Keys.
- A major dredging project is underway in Pasco County to dredged 3,600 cubic yard of sediment from Orange Lake. The project will also include the installation of pollution control structures to keep the lake clean.
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The Sunshine State Sampler: January 2018