'A Jurassic Park Experiment': Watchdog Groups Condemn Decision to Release Genetically Modified Mosquitoes in Florida
By Lisa Newcomb
Food safety and environmental groups Wednesday condemned a decision by officials in Florida to approve the release of 750 million genetically modified mosquitoes, a pilot project aimed at reducing the spread of mosquito-borne diseases.
"With all the urgent crises facing our nation and the State of Florida—the Covid-19 pandemic, racial injustice, climate change—the administration has used tax dollars and government resources for a Jurassic Park experiment," Jaydee Hanson, policy director for the International Center for Technology Assessment and Center for Food Safety, said in a press release Wednesday, following a local mosquito abatement board's approval of the project.
#GMO mosquito trials have shown traces of mutated insects in natural insects -- yet @FLKeysMosquito just pushed thr… https://t.co/JrBjIwT1cZ— Friends of the Earth (@Friends of the Earth)1597854123.0
The Florida Keys Mosquito Control Board on Tuesday approved the trial release, slated for 2021, following a years-long debate.
This would be the first U.S. trial of a genetically modified Aedes aegypti mosquito, which can transmit diseases like Zika and dengue, WUSF Public Media reported Wednesday. The exact location of the release—in the Florida Keys island chain—has not yet been chosen, according to WUSF.
According to WUSF, "The genetic modification means only male mosquitoes—which do not bite—survive. The released male mosquitoes breed with wild females, passing along that self-limiting gene."
But watchdog groups warn that the experiment could produce "hybrid wild mosquitoes" potentially more resistant to insecticides and worsen the spread of mosquito-borne disease. These organizations also worry that the abatement board is putting profit margins of Oxitec, the company that produces the genetically modified insects, ahead of public health.
"The release of genetically engineered mosquitoes will needlessly put Floridians, the environment, and endangered species at risk in the midst of a pandemic," said Dana Perls, food and technology program manager at Friends of the Earth. "This approval is about maximizing Oxitec's profits, not about the pressing need to address mosquito-borne diseases."
Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.
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Hundreds of endangered sea turtles were stranded on beaches after suffering "cold stunning" in the waters off Cape Cod, Mass. Local rescuers and wildlife rehabilitators stabilized the turtles at the New England Aquarium (NEAQ) and National Marine Life Center and began treatment. Many of the sea turtles were transported by land or air to partner facilities around the Eastern Seaboard for longer-term care to make room for more incoming, cold-stunned animals.
Rehabilitators at The Turtle Hospital in the Florida Keys assess critically endangered, cold-stunned Kemp's ridley sea turtles flown in after rescue in New England. The Turtle Hospital<p>NEAQ and local rescuers begin seeing turtles every fall when water temperatures drop to that 50 degrees F threshold, and typically expect to find them into early January. After that, <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/sea-turtle-cape-cod-weather-2621527394.html" target="_self">temperatures are so cold that any animals found are usually no longer alive</a>.</p><p>Merigo estimated that this year's cold season "looks very busy" and noted that local rescue efforts had already surpassed 400 turtles.</p><p>"It is a lot of animals. They're still coming in," she told EcoWatch as she surveyed 39 rescued turtles that day and 20 the day prior. "So far, this is a huge year."</p><p>At NEAQ, the turtles are gradually warmed up about five to 10 degrees F a day. More aggressive warming can cause serious damage and the turtle might not survive, Merigo said. Emergency treatments also include providing replacement fluids, balancing electrolytes and addressing pneumonia. Assessments take place for other serious problems too, such as shell or limb fractures, frostbite, emaciation and eye damage.<span></span></p><p>As local aquariums don't have the capacity to care for all the injured turtles, a group of private pilots called <a href="https://www.turtlesflytoo.org/" target="_blank">"Turtles Fly Too"</a> donated planes, fuel and time to transport some to various partner facilities around the country. Other turtles were driven to closer care facilities.</p><p>"We have a huge network of really great partners working with us, so if we can spread out the care, we can give better care to all the animals," Merigo said.</p><p>The 40 Kemp's ridley sea turtles recovering in The Turtle Hospital will continue to be treated and rehabilitated anywhere from 30 days to a year, depending on the severity of injuries, Zirkelbach said.</p><p>The turtle expert noted that while she's treated cold-stunned turtles from the north before, the newest arrivals were the most cold-stunned Kemp's ridleys ever received at one time.</p>
After rescue, cold-stunned sea turtles received immediate emergency care and assessments at the New England Aquarium. Caitlin Cunningham / New England Aquarium<p>In the past decade, the Gulf of Maine, which spans from Cape Cod to Nova Scotia, has warmed 99 percent faster than the rest of the ocean, Zirkelbach said. The warm water encourages turtles that migrate north along the Gulf Stream in warmer months to stay in the bay longer.</p><p>"Turtles that fail to migrate south get stuck in the unique horseshoe-shaped topography of the Cape Cod peninsula, and when temperatures drop, the bay becomes a death trap," she added.</p><p>Before ocean temperatures warmed, the waters of Maine were too cold for many of these sea turtles, Merigo echoed. Now, with warming sea surface temperatures, Maine can reach the high 70s to low 80s, which is "perfect turtle temperature," she said. The potential for more turtles getting trapped in the bay and then cold-stunned is nerve-racking for Merigo.</p><p>In addition to shifting habitats as waters warm, warming global temperatures also disrupt natural gender balance in sea turtles, Merigo warned. Gender is determined by the temperature of eggs in nests, and as the planet warms, it will result in all females at some point, she said.</p><p>"The turtles we work with are all endangered and threatened," Merigo said. "For sea turtles in general, the future is a little grim. Climate change is real; it does impact them."</p>
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