Environment

Tampa Bay Estuary Program

There's good news on at least one environmental front in Florida. Water flowing into Tampa Bay has been cleaned up so much in recent decades that seagrasses there now rivals the numbers found in the 1950s. On Friday, Oct. 16, the Tampa Bay Estuary Program will host a celebration on Picnic Island in Tampa. WUSF's Steve Newborn asks program executive director Holly Greening if she's surprised by this progress.

Republican Congressman David Jolly of St. Petersburg recently introduced legislation that would hire fishermen to collect red snapper data in the Gulf of Mexico. Fishermen have complained about federal limits on catching red snapper. Jolly said this may give fishermen more days on the water, if it shows the population is healthier than federal research suggests. But some say it could actually mean less days on the water. 

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A group of scientists from Sarasota is in Alaska to investigate the effect of spilled oil on marine life. And it may have implications for how scientists respond to spills closer to home.

USF St. Petersburg

Scientists say they have extracted ancient DNA from the skull of a man buried in the highlands of Ethiopia 4,500 years ago that supports the theory that Eurasian farmers migrated into Africa some 3,000 years ago.

A pair of USF St. Petersburg anthropologists, Drs. John and Kathryn Arthur, were among the members of the international team of scientists, whose work was published in the journal Science.

The state needs to spend another $50 million next year cleaning and preserving Florida’s polluted freshwater springs. That’s what a top regulator told a Senate panel Wednesday.

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The Justice Department and five states have finalized a settlement of more than $20 billion arising from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

The deal announced Monday resolves all civil claims against BP and ends five years of legal fighting over the nearly 134 million-gallon spill.

The Argentine black and white tegu is one of the newest, biggest threats to Florida’s natural wildlife. The large, invasive lizard was first noticed in the wild roughly 10 years ago. Now, it has two main breeding populations and biologists are trying to contain them. They want to stop tegus from becoming established throughout the state.

State officials will step up enforcement Nov. 1 to prevent the harvest and sale of undersize oysters from Northwest Florida's Apalachicola Bay, as efforts continue to try to help the bay recover from a collapse three years ago.

"Things have gotten worse," Jim Estes, deputy director for marine fisheries management at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, said Wednesday. "People are desperate, so there's quite a harvest of undersize oysters."

Judge Affirms Florida Bear Hunt

Oct 2, 2015

A judge has ruled Florida's first bear hunt in two decades may proceed later this month. The judge ruled against environmentalists who argue the hunt will damage the population of the animal that was removed from the state's threatened list in 2012.

Judge George Reynolds' decision came after the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission appeared to shift its stance on a rule environmentalists had complained about.

Representatives of the state agency testified its executive director can end the hunt after the first day if its goal of 320 slain bears is met. Reynolds was satisfied.

One of the world's largest fertilizer makers is settling a massive hazardous waste lawsuit for nearly $2 billion to help clean up pollution and upgrade leaky facilities in Florida and Louisiana, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

Al Gore Criticizes Rick Scott at Climate-Change Summit

Sep 29, 2015

Al Gore reserved most of his criticisms for the state Legislature and Florida’s power companies, who are fighting a proposed Florida constitutional amendment calling for more solar power. After a group aligned with the solar industry called Floridians for Solar Choice proposed the amendment, a power company-funded group called Consumers for Smart Solar began efforts to place a rival initiative on the ballot. "The coal burning electric utilities use their legacy political connections and power and wealth and lobbying and campaign contributions in order to absolutely control the state legislature and the governor's office so that the people of Florida are denied the laws and regulations and opportunities to take advantage of buying electricity for a cheaper price by turning away from the monopoly," Gore said. “The coal burning monopolies are trying to fool you.”

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Business groups are again suing federal wildlife managers to try and force them to lessen legal protections for Florida's beloved manatees.

The Pacific Legal Foundation on Friday filed its lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Ocala. The lawsuit seeks to force the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to lessen legal protections for the sea cows.

Among concerns voiced by boaters and businesses are federal boat speed restrictions that they claim harm fishing and tourism on King's Bay, a popular manatee wintering spot.

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Some Florida fishing guides say they're being crowded out of their preferred waters by a fish they can't keep.

Many commercial and recreational fishermen in northeast Florida and throughout the south Atlantic say they're seeing a banner year for red snapper - adding to their skepticism of data supporting federal regulations for the fish.

Putnam Puts Miami-Dade Under Fruit Fly Emergency

Sep 16, 2015

A type of fruit fly led Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam on Tuesday to declare a state of agricultural emergency in Miami-Dade County.

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If there's one critter considered to be one of the emblems of Florida - besides the manatee, of course - and never mind the mouse - it's the Florida panther.

The felines once prowled the entire Southeast, but relentless hunting thinned the herd to a mere 30 animals by the 1960's. Protections were put in place, and their recovery has been successful enough that there have been a growing number of complaints among ranchers about panther attacks on cattle and other domesticated animals.

Florida agriculture officials have declared a state of emergency in Miami-Dade County, where an Oriental fruit fly infestation has the potential to attack hundreds of crops.

In a news release Tuesday, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam said the first fruit fly was detected Aug. 26. Since then, 158 flies have been detected, many in the Redland area of the county.

Fruit flies lay eggs in fruits and vegetables. They're considered one of the world's most serious pests due to the potential economic harm. The fly attacks more than 430 different fruits, vegetables and nuts.

Little Bird Key
Steve Newborn / WUSF News

Four environmental groups recently sued the state over Amendment One, which overwhelmingly was passed by voters last year. They claim state officials are diverting money that should go into the state’s conservation land-buying fund. So other groups are trying to fill the gap. Recently, one of the most productive bird nesting islands in Tampa Bay was bought by the Audubon Society. WUSF takes us on a trip to Little Bird Key, and tells us why the group is trying to raise money to pay for it.

I hop aboard an outboard with Ann Paul, who manages Audubon Florida's Coastal Islands Sanctuaries. She points her boat to the newest wildlife refuge in Tampa Bay.

We knew El Niño was coming, and earlier today Mike Halpert, deputy director of NOAA's Climate Prediction Center, made it official.

"2015's El Niño now ranks third behind 1997 and 1985", said Halpert.

'Smart Solar' Initiative Soaks Up Contributions

Sep 11, 2015

In a battle involving two solar-energy ballot initiatives, a political committee backed by major utilities collected $335,000 in August --- and had raised $798,000 in less than two months, according to a newly filed finance report.

The group, known as Consumers for Smart Solar, also had nearly $400,000 in the bank as September began.

Meanwhile, rival group Floridians for Solar Choice, which awaits a state Supreme Court decision on its proposed ballot language, appeared to be living almost paycheck-to-paycheck based on a financial report filed Thursday.

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Busch Gardens says a 7-month-old baby gorilla died while under general anesthesia in Tampa.

A theme park spokesman said in a news release Thursday that Kamari, a western lowland gorilla, died Wednesday night.

Since she her February birth, Kamari hadn't developed properly. She had trouble supporting her body weight and didn't fully use her lower extremities.

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