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Nancy Klingener

Nancy Klingener covers the Florida Keys for WLRN. Since moving to South Florida in 1989, she has worked for the Miami HeraldSolares Hill newspaper and the Monroe County Public Library.

She is a Spring 2014 graduate of the Transom Story Workshop. She is on the board of the Key West Literary Seminar and reviews books for the Miami Herald

School had only been in session for a couple weeks last year when the Florida Keys went under a mandatory evacuation order — and then took the brunt of Hurricane Irma as a category 4 storm.

Hurricane Irma cost Florida's fishing industries almost $200 million, according to a damage assessment released by the state and federal governments.

Every few weeks, Fred and Melissa Bach host a neighborhood barbecue at their home in the Avenues, on Big Pine Key. Fred’s watching the grill, a barrel shaped rig with a smoker on the side. There are ribs, chicken, salmon — all sizzling and smelling good.

A neighborhood cookout on a Sunday afternoon is a normal thing in most places. But here, in this neighborhood full of mobile homes and ground level houses, these barbecues are a rare refuge of normalcy.

The Avenues took a direct blow from Hurricane Irma last September.

Is there anything more Floridian than a flamingo?

They’re everywhere. Pink plastic ornaments dotting lawns. On cocktail swizzlers and motel signs.

Hurricane Irma moved a lot of things around underwater off the Florida coast. And the storm has revealed new evidence of an old shipwreck off the Florida Keys.

A new program that allows students to provide information anonymously to school officials by text message will be used throughout the Monroe County school system in the fall.

The forecasters got Hurricane Irma mostly right. At least compared to the predictions of past storms. That’s one of the conclusions from a National Hurricane Center report on the big storm that hit Florida last September.

A U.S. Navy jet crashed on approach to the Naval Air Station Key West airfield at Boca Chica Key Wednesday afternoon, killing both aviators.

The F/A-18F Super Hornet was on final approach to the runway at the airfield. The crew, based at Naval Air Station Oceana in Virginia, was in Key West on a training mission.

Rescue crews found the pilot and weapons system officer in the water about a mile east of the runway and took them to Lower Keys Medical Center. They were both declared dead, according to a statement from the Navy.

In South Florida, iguanas are everywhere. So now the state agency responsible for protecting wildlife — and dealing with exotic species — is holding workshops to help the public cope with the prolific reptiles.

Survey teams this week completed an assessment of the condition of the Keys reef tract, from Biscayne Bay to Key West.

"It's very much like what's observable on land," said Sarah Fangman, superintendent of the 2,900-square-nautical-mile Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. "In some places, the impacts are pretty dramatic and visible and in other places they are much less. So we're finding the same is true underwater."

Even in the same location, the hurricane's impacts differ.

The endangered Key deer herd was already coming out of a tough year — the herd lost more than 100 animals to New World screwworm.

So when the eye of Hurricane Irma crossed the Lower Keys as a Category 4 storm, wildlife managers were worried. The Lower Keys is also the only place on the planet where Key deer live.

But recently completed population surveys came up with good news, said Dan Clark, manager of the four national wildlife refuges in the Keys, including Key Deer National Wildlife Refuge.

Monroe County released a preliminary damage assessment of residential structures in the unincorporated parts of the county Wednesday. 

The company that wants to hold the first U.S. trial of genetically modified mosquitoes in the Florida Keys and Keys residents who oppose the trial don't agree on much.

But representatives from both sides said Thursday they are happy with the recent announcement that federal oversight of the proposed trial will be moved from the Food and Drug Administration to the Environmental Protection Agency.

"We think it's a good thing," said Derric Nimmo, principal scientist at Oxitec, the company that has developed a genetically modified Aedes aegypti mosquito.

In some parts of the Keys, people are still salvaging what they can of their belongings, or figuring out where they will live.

In Key West, local and state leaders gathered Wednesday to send one message: they are open for business.

"Restaurants are open. Hotels are open. Every tourist in the country, in the world, needs to come back to Key West and the Florida Keys," said Gov. Rick Scott.

He spoke at an oceanfront hotel flanked by Key West officials and tourism promoters who were carrying conch shells and waving Conch Republic flags.

Almost 20 years ago, a little radio station from the Lower Keys won an Edward R. Murrow award — one of the highest honors in broadcasting. WWUS was recognized for continuously broadcasting during and after Hurricane Georges, a Category 2 storm that pummeled the Lower Keys.

But it turns out that effort was just a warm-up act for Hurricane Irma.

As Irma was coming toward the Keys, I actually managed to get a couple hours of sleep.

This was surprising since the wind was already rattling the air vents in the room where I was settled on an air mattress with my husband and our dog. But essential because I had not slept at all the night before. 

Key West has seen a lot of hurricanes over the years — but the island itself hasn't had a direct hit since 1919 (though there were a couple of near misses, with Hurricane Georges moving across the Lower Keys in 1998 and Wilma swamping the island from the west in 2005).

Some islanders attribute that string to the supernatural - the Our Lady of Lourdes Grotto.

President Donald Trump's news conference Tuesday was supposed to be about his executive order on infrastructure.

Most of the attention has gone to his controversial statements blaming "both sides" for violence in Charlottesville during a rally by white supremacists and neo-Nazis.

But the executive order is also receiving some pushback from a South Florida Republican.

The order is supposed to speed up improvements to the nation's roads, bridges and railways.

Every year in the late summer, the dive and tourism industries in the Florida Keys encourage people to come to the island chain and watch the reproductive act first-hand — on the reef.

Florida takes its hits, from late-night TV jokes to, now, even a ranking as the worst state in the nation for a “staggeringly impressive” “awfulness resume,” according to the website Thrillist.

But for all the Flori-duh jokes (that we make, too, but we live here so it’s OK), this is an astonishingly large, diverse, beautiful, interesting and yeah, sometimes staggeringly awful place — and it has produced some remarkable works of literature.

While mainland South Florida ramps up its battle against the mosquito that can carry Zika, the Florida Keys has already begun the region's most intensive mosquito control operation.

Commissioners in Miami-Dade County and the city of Key West have voted to endorse  the Paris Climate Accord, despite President Donald Trump withdrawing the U.S. from the international agreement to cut carbon emissions earlier this month.

Most of the news and research these days about coral reefs is pretty grim — massive losses from bleaching, everywhere from Australia to the Florida Keys. Some parts of Florida and the Caribbean have lost more than half of the living coral off their reefs in the last three decades.

But there is some good news on the coral research front and this week saw a major milestone in those efforts, when Mote Marine Laboratory opened its new $7 million center in the Keys.

Cletus the crocodile may be lonely no more.

The American crocodile that showed up at the Dry Tortugas in 2003 was captured and loaded onto a seaplane over the weekend, then released in the Everglades.

Over the last several years, some new arrivals have taken up residence at Naval Air Station Key West's airfield on Boca Chica Key: American crocodiles.

"We don't know exactly how many we have," said Edward Barham, the environmental director for the base. "But we know we have four or five of them pretty much all the time."

Constellation is an Atlantic bottlenose dolphin, but she spends most of her time in the Pacific. She's part of the Navy's Marine Mammal program, based in San Diego.

As the rainy season returns to South Florida and the fight against Zika gears up, the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District Tuesday began a first-in-Florida trial of a control method that uses bacteria to reduce mosquito populations.

The district will release 20,000 male mosquitoes infected with the Wolbachia bacteria twice a week for the next 12 weeks. The releases will take place in a 10-acre test site on Stock Island,  and mosquito traps there will be compared with a similar-sized control area nearby (but separated by a buffer).

The end of the wet-foot, dry-foot policy, which allowed Cuban refugees who made it to U.S. soil to stay in the country, also means the end of another phenomenon in the Florida Keys: refugee boats that were abandoned in remote islands.

Florida has not had any locally transmitted cases of Zika so far in 2017. And the number of travel-related cases has fallen drastically in the dry season.

But tests of new mosquito-fighting methods are still moving forward in the Florida Keys.

The first U.S. trial of genetically modified Aedes aegypti mosquitoes — the kind that carries Zika and dengue fever — is still on track for the Keys, just not on Key Haven. That's the island that Oxitec, the company that makes the genetically modified mosquito, chose for its test site.

When a diver who was also a volunteer for the Reef Environmental Education Foundation saw a fish that looked out of place in the waters off Dania Beach in October, she sent a photo to REEF, a marine conservation nonprofit based in Key Largo.

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