A Toxic Tide Is Killing Florida Wildlife

Dead fish, most likely killed by a toxic algal bloom, in Florida in 2016. The current outbreak has been going strong for about nine months. Credit Jeffrey Greenberg/UIG, via Getty Images
By Tryggvi Adalbjornsson and Melissa Gomez,

 

Florida has an algae problem, and it’s big. This year, an overgrowth in the waters off the state’s southwestern coast is killing wildlife and making some beaches noxious.

The toxic algal bloom, known as a red tide, is not unusual. They appear off the state’s coast almost every year. But this one, still going strong after roughly nine months, is the longest since 2006, when blooms that originated in 2004 finally abated after 17 months.

The blooms can poison marine animals like sea turtles and manatees, while waves and ocean spray can carry toxins into the air and cause respiratory problems in people.

They can also hit the local tourism industry hard.

“We’re all being really devastated,” said Rachel Wells, 24, who manages an ecotourism business in Englewood, Fla. that runs catamaran tours in the Gulf of Mexico. “Business is just being hurt because we can’t conscientiously suggest for our guests to come out.”

Her company has not done a tour in two weeks, she said, and has temporarily laid off six employees until business picks up again.As for the wildlife, almost 300 sea turtles have been found dead since January in four counties south of Tampa that have been affected by the bloom, far more than the usual number.

Although some of the turtles may have been tangled up in fishing lines, hit by boats or died from diseases unrelated to the algae blooms, Allen Foley, a wildlife biologist at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, said he believed that a majority of the turtle deaths were attributable to the red tide.

“It’s a very safe bet,” he said.

Beaches have been covered in dead fish, too, causing a foul smell on top of the respiratory problems that have hit some people, Ms. Wells said.

An algal bloom off Coquina Beach, Fla. in 2006.  Credit Paul Lamison/Tampa Tribune-News Channel 8, via Associated Press

“It is nasty here,” wrote Beth Camisa of Englewood, Fla., in a Facebook group dedicated to sharing information about the red tide. “Haven’t been to the beach in weeks.”

The blooms generally appear in late summer or early fall and tend to die off sometime before the following summer. In a normal year, factors like winds, currents and competition from other types of algae cause them to dissipate. This time, though, the bloom hasn’t gone away.

Toxic freshwater algal blooms, originating inland at Lake Okeechobee, have also caused concern in southern Florida this summer. Spread by controlled water releases from the lake, the blooms prompted Governor Rick Scott of Florida to issue an executive order this month to help battle the algae.

These blue-green algae, which appear in the lake almost every year, are promoted by stagnant water, high temperatures and nutrients from sources like fertilizers, said Christopher J. Gobler, professor of marine science at Stony Brook University.

“That lake is heavily impacted by citrus agriculture,” he said.

Climate change is expected to intensify the freshwater algal blooms, according to Timothy Davis, associate professor of biology at Bowling Green State University in Ohio.

“They really flourish in warm waters,” he said. Also, increased rainfall can bring more nutrients into lakes. “We’re expecting to see larger blooms that last longer and could potentially be more toxic.”

The extent to which climate change is affecting the blooms at sea is unclear. For the red tides off Southwest Florida, researchers “don’t have enough data to really answer the question,” said Richard P. Stumpf, an oceanographer at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration who studies harmful algae. “It’s a hard problem.”

Conservatives come out against carbon tax bill from GOP lawmaker

BY MIRANDA GREEN

 

A newly proposed carbon tax bill is creating a fissure in the Republican Party, with conservative groups coming out in fierce opposition Monday to legislation introduced by a House GOP lawmaker.

Several conservative groups bashed a measure introduced earlier in the day by Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.) that would impose a tax on carbon-emitting companies.

Americans For Tax Reform President Grover Norquist called the bill a political loser.

“Carbon doesn’t pay taxes — families pay taxes, people pay taxes, taxpayers pay taxes,” Norquist said at the National Press Club. “This is just the most recent effort by the left to find a way to get into your pockets.”

Conservatives took turns denouncing the legislation, which would impose a tax on companies that emit gases that contribute to climate change. Opponents highlighted the hundreds of dollars in energy price hikes it could bring to U.S. households.

They also characterized Curbelo as a Republican who is trying to appease Democrats. Curbelo is running for reelection in a congressional district that presidential nominee Hillary Clinton won handily in 2016.

“There is no appreciation to be gained by the real Democrats by pretending to be a Democrat,” Phil Kerpen, president of American Commitment, said of Curbelo. “There’s a Republican consensus against this bill. It’s a bad idea, and any Republican who is tempted to embrace it will see very little friends on both sides of the aisle.”

The event was held down the hall from where Curbelo introduced his legislation two hours earlier.

Curbelo’s bill would repeal federal taxes on gasoline, diesel and aviation fuels and replace those with a $24 per metric ton tax on carbon dioxide emissions that would increase annually.

The measure also breaks with the party’s long-standing opposition to policies that punish the fossil fuel industry for carbon pollution.

The carbon tax in Curbelo’s bill would apply to coal mines, fuel refineries, certain manufacturing facilities, natural gas processors and fossil fuel importers. It would likely increase the cost of products and services that use fossil fuels, and revenues from the tax would go toward infrastructure, low-income households and climate mitigation projects.

Many of the conservative speakers at Monday’s event disputed that a carbon tax would thwart rising temperatures and climate change.

“Science is a distraction, it’s a rhetorical gotcha,” said Marlo Lewis, a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute. “Of course I believe in manmade global warming, but it’s much better than they’ve told us.”

Norquist said it was unnecessary to look at the science to see that the proposal would not help the free market.

“You don’t have to get into the science,” Norquist said. “You can get into the question of, ‘have more free market solutions led to lower emissions as new technologies and fracking have evolved?’ And people who told us this couldn’t happen were wrong.”

The bill is adding fuel to an already fiery debate about whether fossil fuel companies should be held responsible for emitting greenhouse gases.

Last week, the House passed a mostly symbolic resolution introduced by Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) that spells out opposition to a potential carbon tax. While Republicans hailed the vote outcome as a victory, six GOP members opposed it; a similar measure introduced by Scalise in 2016 received unanimous Republican support.

Republicans at Monday’s press event warned that those six members would have to deal with voting against the party as they seek reelection.

“Such a foolish vote is only a mistake for the members who vote that way,” said Kerpen.

Norquist said the vote might become crucial for midterm election races.

“Every single congressman who voted against Scalise should be educated — all citizens should know where their congressman or senator or state legislator stands on making their energy affordable for them, and I think all center-right groups will work on highlighting that,” Norquist said.

Timothy Cama contributed to this report.

Babcock Ranch In Florida Is To Sustainable Living What Tesla Is To Sustainable Transportation

July 15th, 2018 by

Tucked into a corner of Southwest Florida about a half-hour from Fort Myers, Babcock Ranch is what developer Syd Kitson calls the most sustainable new community in America. It started when Kitson, a former NFL player, purchased the 91,000 acre ranch in 2006. He immediately struck a deal to sell 73,000 acres of the property to the state of Florida for a wildlife preserve. He then donated 440 acres to Florida Power & Light with the stipulation that it construct a solar power plant on the land. Today, that parcel is covered by 350,000 solar panels that feed electricity into the electrical grid.

Then Kitson went to work with local partners to design and build a new community on the remaining 17,000 acres. “We want to be the most sustainable new town in the United States,” Kitson tells CBS News. “We had the advantage of a green field, a blank sheet of paper. When you have a blank sheet of paper like this, you really can do it right from the beginning.”

The town gets most of its electricity from the nearby solar power plant during the day. Although the community has 10 small battery stations, Kitson says large-scale battery storage is still too expensive (Elon Musk would disagree), so at night or on cloudy days, the community draws power from the utility grid. “The people here pay the exact same amount that everybody else pays in the Florida Power and Light network,” he says. “Clearly, if you have a number of cloudy days in a row, it will impact the efficiency and the available electricity that comes from the solar field, but this is Florida, and if you don’t like the weather, just wait 10 minutes.” Last year, when Hurricane Irma swept across that part of the state, not one solar panel was damaged.

The first residents began moving in at the beginning of this year. 500 homes are expected to be completed by December. 19,500 dwelling units are planned over the next two decades. All of the structures in Babcock Ranch will feature the latest energy efficiency technology and offer 1 gigabit internet access. Alexa will handle all smart home functions. Outside, there are 50 miles of nature trails through the wildlife preserve next door. A farm-to-table organic gardening project is underway and a K-8 charter school is planned. Residents will be encouraged to leave their cars at home as they walk, bike, or take advantage of the electric autonomous shuttle bus fleet that will service the community.

“This community is a unique opportunity to really implement sustainable technology in a practical way,” Haris Alibašić, a professor at the University of West Florida, tells Good.com. “Cities around the world have started adopting 100% renewable energy targets, but it’s both intriguing and encouraging to see this happening from a developer.” He adds he would like to see more affordable housing included in the plans for the community. A three bedroom home in Babcock Ranch sells for $195,000 and a four bedroom town house lists for $795,000. “I think the ultimate key to long term sustainability is attracting people from diverse incomes and backgrounds,” he says.

Last January, Richard and Robin Kinley became the first family to move to Babcock Ranch. They chose a house near a lake, which has now been named Lake Kinley in their honor. “The air is nice and clean here and I think these types of communities are the future,” Robin says. “I felt very much like when I bought a Tesla back in 2013 and I said, this is definitely is going to make it,” Richard adds. “I felt the same way about Babcock Ranch.”

Their first neighbors were Donna and James Aveck, who moved in a few weeks later. “We love the innovation here,” Donna says. “We think it’s a very small planet and we want to do our part to conserve it.” Babcock Ranch has thought of every detail when it comes to sustainability. Jim says, “When I go to the gym, which is huge, and I get on the treadmill, the energy I generate by running actually feeds back into the electric grid.”

Communities that have already transitioned to 100% renewable energy include Aspen, Colorado; Burlington, Vermont; Greensburg, Kansas; Rockport, Missouri; and Kodiak Island, Alaska, according to the Sierra Club. But Babcock Ranch has designed sustainability into the entire fabric of the community from the beginning. Just as Tesla has driven change in the transportation industry, Babcock Ranch will encourage other cities and towns to make sustainability part of their community DNA.

New I-95 sound walls rising from Boca Raton to Deerfield Beach

Marci Shatzman, Contact Reporter, South Florida Sun Sentinel

If you live near a stretch of Interstate 95 under construction, you may be getting some quiet: Seven noise-blocking walls are planned from Boca Raton, south of Glades Road, to Deerfield Beach, south of Southwest 10th Street.

One of the sound walls, near the Fairfield Gardens community in Boca Raton, is already complete, rising 22 feet.

The I-95 noise had carried into parts of Fairfield Gardens, but the new wall resolved that, said David Abramson, with the homeowners association board. “I’ve been back there,” he said, “and it’s night and day now.”

The sound walls from Boca Raton to Deerfield Beach coincide with an I-95 plan to widen and convert carpool lanes into two toll express lanes in each direction.

The toll express lanes are expected to open by spring 2022, weather permitting, according to the Florida Department of Transportation.

It can take months to build any of the sound walls, which are made from precast concrete and rise anywhere from 8 feet to 22 feet. Panels in the middle get tropical designs, usually birds, with plain walls on either side.

The other communities receiving sound walls:

— Mizner Forest in Boca Raton will receive a 20-foot wall. Construction is expected to start Tuesday.

— Palm Beach Farms, Boca Square, Raintree and Palmetto Park West in Boca Raton will each get an 8-foot replacement wall.

— County Club Village in Boca Raton will receive either an 8-foot retaining wall or a 14-foot wall, depending on the location.

— Tivoli Park and Natura in Deerfield Beach each will have 22-foot walls.

Meantime, noise barriers already in southern Broward could be expanded or modified for an I-95 and I-595 express-lane project. One project, at Hollywood Boulevard and Sheridan Street, is the design phase. They still are being considered along I-95, between Hollywood and Hallandale boulevards and at the Broward Boulevard interchange.

Officers decide whether the walls are needed after they use devices to measure the noise. Officials consider building sound walls when the noise level meets a federal standard of at least 67 decibels. By contrast, a rock concert could reach as high as 100 or more decibels.

mshatzman@sun-sentinel.com,

Visit our Boca Raton community page at facebook.com/SunSentinelBocaRaton.

Sea level rise threatens to eat away the Everglades | Opinion

By Steve Davis
July 2, 2018

 

For those of us living along the lower east coast of Florida, the Everglades is a backyard wilderness, the source of our drinking water and an important hurricane buffer. It is also a flat, low-lying wetland with an imperceptible slope, making it quite vulnerable to sea-level rise.

Once a 50-mile-wide “River of Grass” extending from Lake Okeechobee to Florida Bay, the Everglades is now divided by canals and levees into units we know as Everglades National Park, Big Cypress National Preserve and the Water Conservation Areas.

Now half its original size, the remaining Everglades ecosystem still encompasses more than 2.5 million acres and consists of a variety of habitats that are adapted to extremely low nutrient levels and a range of flooding conditions by either freshwater or saltwater. Scientists have been investigating what is likely to happen to the Everglades when those flooding patterns are altered by rapid rates of sea-level rise.

Many people assume that as sea level rises, mangroves will gradually migrate landward, replacing freshwater sawgrass near the coast. This landward migration of mangroves and other coastal habitats is well documented, and there is strong evidence that this process has been exacerbated further by water management activities, which reduce freshwater flow from the Everglades to the coast.

It doesn’t take a scientist to see the effects. Anyone who drives to Flamingo or Key Largo can observe how far the mangroves have advanced inland over the last few decades.

Given that mangroves provide valuable coastal wetland habitat, trading sawgrass for mangroves may not be such a bad thing, right? Unfortunately, it is not that simple.

The interaction of water, salinity and plants can dramatically affect the integrity and elevation of the soil that supports these habitats.

In freshwater sawgrass marshes and salty mangroves of the Everglades, organic soils (called peat soils) develop under persistent flooding. Peat soils are comprised of plant matter that accumulates faster than it decomposes, forming a blanket of sorts on top of South Florida’s porous limestone bedrock.

In the deepest freshwater marshes, peat soils average 2 to 3 feet in thickness. In Everglades mangroves, peat soil thickness can exceed 10 feet.

When we deprive marshes of freshwater, peat soils break down, resulting in soil loss. In fact, it has been estimated that some marshes in the park have lost as much as 3 feet of soil elevation in the era of water management.

A more complicated and destructive outcome results when freshwater marshes, which are already receiving less freshwater, are increasingly exposed to saltwater before mangroves become established. An example is Cape Sable, the landmass at the southwestern-most tip of Florida.

In the 1920s, canals were dug into Cape Sable to drain the freshwater marshes but instead facilitated saltwater intrusion. By the time aerial photography became widely available in the 1930s and 40s, much of this freshwater marsh had disappeared, converting to open water rather than a mangrove forest.

Research by Dr. Hal Wanless of the University of Miami suggested that saltwater accelerated the breakdown and collapse of these freshwater marshes on Cape Sable. His work inspired scientists from Florida International University led by Dr. Tiffany Troxler, the Everglades Foundation, Everglades National Park, and the South Florida Water Management District to develop experiments focused on understanding how and why peat soil collapses.

This research, which is supported by Florida Sea Grant and the National Science Foundation, will improve how we assess wetland vulnerability to sea-level rise and perhaps identify better water or habitat management options.

Through this work and other science, we are learning that a “perfect storm” of sea-level rise, low freshwater flow (because of water management) and saltwater intrusion can cause peat soil to disappear faster than it can accumulate – transforming an affected area to open water, not to mangrove forest.

In the Everglades, collapsed areas appear as large puddles in the landscape surrounded by vegetation. Over time, collapsed areas of marsh coalesce into larger areas, releasing nutrients once sequestered in the peat soil into the environment where they wreak havoc in the Everglades and coastal waters such as Florida Bay or Biscayne Bay.

Peat soil is to the Everglades as sediments and coastal marshes are to the Louisiana Delta, and loss of peat soil can result in the loss of land.

When such drastic ecological changes occur so rapidly, it is difficult to predict what chain of events will follow. However, we know that we are accelerating peat collapse and shaping the future coastline of the Everglades under the current system of water management.

Until we restore the flow of freshwater to Everglades National Park, we are short-circuiting the natural transition to mangroves and possibly increasing South Florida’s future coastal vulnerability.

Dr. Steve Davis is the Senior Ecologist for The Everglades Foundation.

“The Invading Sea” is a collaboration of four South Florida media organizations — the South Florida Sun Sentinel, Miami Herald, Palm Beach Post and WLRN Public Media.