By David Duffy and Catherine Eastman
Plastic pollution has been found in practically every environment on the planet, with especially severe effects on ocean life. Plastic waste harms marine life in many ways – most notably, when animals become entangled in it or consume it.
We work as scientists and rehabilitators at The Whitney Laboratory for Marine Bioscience and Sea Turtle Hospital at the University of Florida. Our main focus is on sea turtle diseases that pose conservation threats, such as fibropapillomatosis tumor disease.
However, it's becoming increasingly hard to ignore evidence that plastic pollution poses a growing, hidden threat to the health of endangered sea turtles, particularly our youngest patients. In a newly published study, we describe how we examined 42 post-hatchling loggerhead sea turtles that stranded on beaches in Northeast Florida. We found that almost all of them had ingested plastic in large quantities.
An Ocean of Plastic
Ocean plastic pollution originates mostly from land-based sources, such as landfills and manufacturing plants. One recent study estimates that winds carry 200,000 tons of tiny plastic particles from degraded tires alone into the oceans every year.
Plastics are extremely durable, even in salt water. Materials that were made in the 1950s, when plastic mass production began, are still persisting and accumulating in the oceans. Eventually these objects disintegrate into smaller fragments, but they may not break down into their chemical components for centuries.
Overall, some 11 million tons of plastic enter the ocean each year. This amount is projected to grow to 29 million tons by 2040.
A Microplastic Diet
Many forms of plastic threaten marine life. Sea turtles commonly mistake floating bags and balloons for their jellyfish prey. Social media channels are replete with videos and images of sea turtles with plastic straws stuck in their nostrils, killed in plastic-induced mass mortality events, or dying after ingesting hundreds of plastic fragments.
So far, however, scientists don't know a lot about the prevalence and health effects of plastic ingestion in vulnerable young sea turtles. In our study, we sought to measure how much plastic was ingested by post-hatchling washback sea turtles admitted to our rehabilitation hospital.
Post-hatchling washbacks are recently hatched baby turtles that successfully travel from their nesting beaches out to the open ocean and start to feed, but are then washed back to shore due to strong winds or ill health. This is a crucial life stage: Turtles need to feed to recover from their frenzied swim to feeding grounds hundreds of miles offshore. Feeding well also helps them grow large enough to avoid most predators.
Post-hatchling sea turtle being treated at Gumbo Limbo Nature Center. Gumbo Limbo Nature Center, CC BY-ND
We examined 42 dead washbacks, and found that 39 of them, or 93%, had ingested plastic – often in startling quantities. A majority of it was hard fragments, most commonly colored white.
One turtle that weighed 48 grams or 1.6 ounces – roughly equivalent to 16 pennies – had ingested 287 plastic pieces. Another hatchling that weighed just 27 grams, or less than one ounce, had ingested 119 separate pieces of plastic that totaled 1.23% of its body weight. The smallest turtle in our study, with a shell just 4.6 centimeters (1.8 inches) long, had ingested a piece of plastic one-fourth the length of its shell.
Consuming such large quantities of plastic increases the likelihood that broken-down plastic nanoparticles or chemicals that leach from them will enter turtles' bloodstreams, with unknown health effects. Ingested plastic can also block turtles' stomachs or intestines. At a minimum, it limits the amount of space that's physically available for consuming and digesting genuine prey that they need to survive and grow.
Turtles at this life stage live at the ocean's surface, sheltering in floating mats of seaweed, where they feed on invertebrate prey such as zooplankton. These floating seaweed mats gather in the Atlantic, in an area known as the Sargasso Sea, which is bounded by four major ocean currents and covers much of the central Atlantic Ocean. The area is heavily polluted with plastic, as both seaweed and plastic travel on and are concentrated by the same ocean currents. Our study suggests that these baby turtles are mistakenly feeding on plastic floating in and around the seaweed.
The Sargasso Sea is an important feeding ground for immature Atlantic sea turtles, but the same currents that concentrate seaweed there also carry drifting plastic trash. University of Florida, CC BY-ND
Post-hatchling sea turtles are young and need to feed and grow rapidly. This means they are particularly at risk from the harmful consequences of ingesting plastic. We find it especially troubling that almost all of the animals we assessed had ingested plastic in such large quantities. Plastic pollution is only one of many human-related threats that these charismatic and endangered creatures face at sea.
Stemming the Plastic Tsunami
Since plastic persists for hundreds of years in the environment, clearing it from the oceans will require ingenious cleanup technologies, as well as lower-tech beach and shore cleanups. But in our view, the top priority should be curbing the rampant flow of plastic that is swamping oceans and coasts.
Earth's ecosystems, especially the oceans, are interconnected, so reducing plastic waste will require global solutions. They include improving methods for recycling plastics; developing bio-based plastics; banning single-use plastic items in favor of more sustainable or reusable alternatives; and reducing shipment of plastic waste abroad to countries with lax regulatory regimes, from where it is more likely to enter the environment.
Our observations in post-hatchling turtles are part of a growing body of research showing how plastic pollution is harming wildlife. We believe it is time for humanity to face up to its addiction to plastic, before we find ourselves wading through swathes of plastic debris and wondering what went wrong.
David Duffy is an assistant professor of wildlife disease genomics at the University of Florida.
Catherine Eastman is the Sea Turtle Hospital program coordinator at the Whitney Laboratory for Marine Bioscience, University of Florida.
Disclosure statements: David Duffy receives funding from the Save Our Seas Foundation, the National Save the Sea Turtle Foundation, the European Union, and the Florida Sea Turtle Grants Program. He is affiliated with Wildlife Rehabilitation Ireland, a registered charity. Catherine Eastman receives funding from the Florida Sea Turtle Grants Program.
Reposted with permission from The Conversation.
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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.
"Cold stunning" is a hypothermic reaction that occurs when sea turtles are exposed to cold water for a prolonged time, explained Connie Merigo, NEAQ's Director of the Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Department. The dangerous condition typically develops in sea turtles when water temperatures reach 50 degrees F and cause the animals to stop eating and swimming, she said. They float, unable to eat or dive, exposed constantly to wind and waves. When winds shift onshore after storms, they work with surface currents and high tides to push stunned turtles onto the shore, where beach walkers find and rescue them.
"Sea turtles are ectothermic, meaning they take on the temperature of the water or air around them," Bette Zirkelbach told EcoWatch. "They are not able to regulate their body temperature, so cold water temperatures become dangerous for these turtles. A lower body temperature slows the turtles' heart rate and circulation, lowering oxygen levels and leading to severe lethargy. If left untreated, cold-stunning can progress to shock, pneumonia and even death."
Zirkelbach is the manager at The Turtle Hospital in Marathon, Florida, a facility that received 40 critically endangered Kemp's ridley sea turtles last week from NEAQ for longer-term care.
"When turtles are cold-stunned, they appear dead. There is no movement and very little reflex," Merigo told EcoWatch. "Sometimes we need a Doppler and an ultrasound to even detect a heartbeat because a turtle's heart slows so much when it is cold-stunned. It can slow to just three beats a minute even, but you can usually still save that turtle."
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
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, temperatures are so cold that any animals found are usually no longer alive.
Merigo estimated that this year's cold season "looks very busy" and noted that local rescue efforts had already surpassed 400 turtles.
"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."
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.
As local aquariums don't have the capacity to care for all the injured turtles, a group of private pilots called "Turtles Fly Too" donated planes, fuel and time to transport some to various partner facilities around the country. Other turtles were driven to closer care facilities.
"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.
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.
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.
Kemp's ridleys are the most endangered species of sea turtle in the world, Zirkelbach and Merigo confirmed. They are also the smallest species of sea turtle, according to NOAA.
The majority of cold-stunned animals are juvenile Kemp's ridley sea turtles, estimated to be between one and five years old, Zirkelbach said. Merigo hypothesized that their smaller size contributes to cold-stunning sooner than other species, and are also washing up on beaches earlier.
Merigo noted that sea turtles are really resilient, making the entire rescue and rehabilitation program worth it. Once warm, fully rehabilitated and healthy, the turtles recovering at The Turtle Hospital will go to another part of Florida where juvenile Kemp's ridley sea turtles will return to the ocean, Zirkelbach said.
"Sea turtles have a built-in GPS, so they will get back on track," she assured.
Both experts noted a potential connection with the climate crisis, and a 2019 study found that warming seas increase cold-stunning events for Kemp's ridley sea turtles in the northwestern Atlantic Ocean. Warmer global temperatures do not cause the cold-stunning, but could explain why the turtles are in the area in the first place.
After rescue, cold-stunned sea turtles received immediate emergency care and assessments at the New England Aquarium. Caitlin Cunningham / New England Aquarium
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.
"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.
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.
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.
"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."
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Throughout Texas, there are a number of solar power companies that can install solar panels on your roof to take advantage of the abundant sunlight. But which solar power provider should you choose? In this article, we'll provide a list of the best solar companies in the Lone Star State.
Our Picks for the Best Texas Solar Companies
Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
- Sunpro Solar
- Longhorn Solar, Inc.
- Solartime USA
- Kosmos Solar
- Sunshine Renewable Solutions
- Alba Energy
- Circle L Solar
- South Texas Solar Systems
- Good Faith Energy
How We Chose the Best Solar Energy Companies in Texas
There are a number of factors to keep in mind when comparing and contrasting different solar providers. These are some of the considerations we used to evaluate Texas solar energy companies.
Different solar companies may provide varying services. Always take the time to understand the full range of what's being offered in terms of solar panel consultation, design, installation, etc. Also consider add-ons, like EV charging stations, whenever applicable.
When meeting with a representative from one of Texas' solar power companies, we would always encourage you to ask what the installation process involves. What kind of customization can you expect? Will your solar provider use salaried installers, or outsourced contractors? These are all important questions to raise during the due diligence process.
Texas is a big place, and as you look for a good solar power provider, you want to ensure that their services are available where you live. If you live in Austin, it doesn't do you much good to have a solar company that's active only in Houston.
Pricing and Financing
Keep in mind that the initial cost of solar panel installation can be sizable. Some solar companies are certainly more affordable than others, and you can also ask about the flexible financing options that are available to you.
To guarantee that the renewable energy providers you select are reputable, and that they have both the integrity and the expertise needed, we would recommend assessing their status in the industry. The simplest way to do this is to check to see whether they are North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP) certified or belong to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) or other industry groups.
Types of Panels
As you research different companies, it certainly doesn't hurt to get to know the specific products they offer. Inquire about their tech portfolio, and see if they are certified to install leading brands like Tesla or Panasonic.
Rebates and Tax Credits
There are a lot of opportunities to claim clean energy rebates or federal tax credits which can help with your initial solar purchase. Ask your solar provider for guidance navigating these different savings opportunities.
Going solar is a big investment, but a warranty can help you trust that your system will work for decades. A lot of solar providers provide warranties on their technology and workmanship for 25 years or more, but you'll definitely want to ask about this on the front end.
The 10 Best Solar Energy Companies in Texas
With these criteria in mind, consider our picks for the 10 best solar energy companies in TX.
SunPower is a solar energy company that makes it easy to make an informed and totally customized decision about your solar power setup. SunPower has an online design studio where you can learn more about the different options available for your home, and even a form where you can get a free online estimate. Set up a virtual consultation to speak directly with a qualified solar installer from the comfort of your own home. It's no wonder SunPower is a top solar installation company in Texas. They make the entire process easy and expedient.
Sunpro Solar is another solar power company with a solid reputation across the country. Their services are widely available to Texas homeowners, and they make the switch to solar effortless. We recommend them for their outstanding customer service, for the ease of their consultation and design process, and for their assistance to homeowners looking to claim tax credits and other incentives.
Looking for a solar contractor with true Texas roots? Longhorn Solar is an award-winning company that's frequently touted as one of the best solar providers in the state. Their services are available in Austin, Dallas, and San Antonio, and since 2009 they have helped more than 2,000 Texans make the switch to energy efficiency with solar. We recommend them for their technical expertise, proven track record, and solar product selection.
Solartime USA is another company based in Texas. In fact, this family-owned business is located in Richardson, which is just outside of Dallas. They have ample expertise with customized solar energy solutions in residential settings, and their portfolio of online reviews attests to their first-rate customer service. We love this company for the simplicity of their process, and for all the guidance they offer customers seeking to go solar.
Next on our list is Kosmos Solar, another Texas-based solar company. They're based in the northern part of the state, and highly recommended for homeowners in the area. They supply free estimates, high-quality products, custom solar designs, and award-winning personal service. Plus, their website has a lot of great information that may help guide you while you determine whether going solar is right for you.
Sunshine Renewable Solutions is based out of Houston, and they've developed a sterling reputation for dependable service and high-quality products. They have a lot of helpful financing options, and can show you how you can make the switch to solar in a really cost-effective way. We also like that they give free estimates, so there's certainly no harm in learning more about this great local company.
"Powered by the Texas sun." That's the official tagline of Alba Energy, a solar energy provider that's based out of Katy, TX. They have lots of great information about solar panel systems and solar solutions, including solar calculators to help you tabulate your potential energy savings. Additionally, we recommend Alba Energy because all of their work is done by a trusted, in-house team of solar professionals. They maintain an A+ rating with the Better Business Bureau, and they have rave reviews from satisfied customers.
Circle L Solar has a praiseworthy mission of helping homeowners slash their energy costs while participating in the green energy revolution. This is another company that provides a lot of great information, including energy savings calculators. Also note that, in addition to solar panels, Circle L Solar also showcases a number of other assets that can help you make your home more energy efficient, including windows, weatherization services, LED lighting, and more.
You can tell by the name that South Texas Solar Systems focuses its service area on the southernmost part of the Lone Star State. Their products include a wide range of commercial and residential solar panels, as well as "off the grid" panels for homeowners who want to detach from public utilities altogether. Since 2007, this company has been a trusted solar energy provider in San Antonio and beyond.
Good Faith Energy is a certified installer of Tesla solar technology for homeowners throughout Texas. This company is really committed to ecological stewardship, and they have amassed a lot of goodwill thanks to their friendly customer service and the depth of their solar expertise. In addition to Tesla solar panels, they can also install EV charging stations and storage batteries.
What are Your Solar Financing Options in Texas?
We've mentioned already that going solar requires a significant investment on the front-end. It's worth emphasizing that some of the best solar companies provide a range of financing options, allowing you to choose whether you buy your system outright, lease it, or pay for it in monthly installments.
Also keep in mind that there are a lot of rebates and state and federal tax credits available to help offset starting costs. Find a Texas solar provider who can walk you through some of the different options.
How Much Does a Solar Energy System Cost in Texas?
How much is it going to cost you to make that initial investment into solar power? It varies by customer and by home, but the median cost of solar paneling may be somewhere in the ballpark of $13,000. Note that, when you take into account federal tax incentives, this number can fall by several thousand dollars.
And of course, once you go solar, your monthly utility bills are going to shrink dramatically… so while solar systems won't pay for themselves in the first month or even the first year, they will ultimately prove more than cost-effective.
Finding the Right Solar Energy Companies in TX
Texas is a great place to pursue solar energy companies, thanks to all the natural sunlight, and there are plenty of companies out there to help you make the transition. Do your homework, compare a few options, and seek the solar provider that's right for you. We hope this guide is a helpful jumping-off point as you try to get as much information as possible about the best solar companies in Texas.
Josh Hurst is a journalist, critic, and essayist. He lives in Knoxville, TN, with his wife and three sons. He covers natural health, nutrition, supplements, and clean energy. His writing has appeared in Health, Shape, and Remedy Review.
'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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As a tropical storm, Isaias has already battered Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. In Puerto Rico, still recovering from 2017's Hurricane Maria, the storm knocked out the power of 300,000 to 400,000 people, dumped five to 10 inches of rain and caused mudslides and flash flooding, National Weather Service San Juan meteorologist Gabriel Lojero told CNN. One woman went missing when her car was swept away.
"A lot of neighborhoods were submerged under water," Lojero said.
Southwestern PR | Suroeste de PR: Flash Flood Warning in effect until 9:15 pm. Aviso de Inundaciones repentinas en… https://t.co/k7IMKHlQJJ— NWS San Juan (@NWS San Juan)1596150297.0
The Dominican Republic also experienced flooding, water and power outages and storm damage, The Associated Press reported. One man died when he was electrocuted by a toppled electrical cable.
Isaias is now 340 miles from Nassau in the Bahamas with winds of 80 miles per hour, according to an 8 a.m. EDT update from the National Hurricane Center (NHC). Hurricane conditions are expected in parts of the Bahamas today.
The storm is expected to reach the central Bahamas tonight and move near or over the Northwestern Bahamas and near or east of the Florida peninsula Saturday and Sunday.
One of the major potential hazards from the storm is rain. It is expected to dump four to eight inches of rain on the Bahamas, the Dominican Republic, northern Haiti and the Turks and Caicos islands through Saturday and one to two inches over Cuba.
"These rainfall amounts will lead to life-threatening flash flooding and mudslides, as well as river flooding," the NHC warned.
Between Friday and Monday, the storm could dump two to four inches over South and east-Central Florida, potentially causing flooding. Heavy rains could reach the Carolinas early next week.
Here are the Key Messages for July 31 at 5 am EDT for #Hurricane #Isaias. The full advisory is at… https://t.co/8AG5wNA6jn— National Hurricane Center (@National Hurricane Center)1596187248.0
Isaias has slowed somewhat as it approaches the Bahamas, from 22 miles per hour Wednesday to 17 on Friday. This means it will have more time to strengthen as it passes over warmer water, the Tampa Bay Times pointed out. This could spell trouble for the Bahamas, parts of which were devastated by Hurricane Dorian, which rapidly intensified last year.
"We know from past and recent experience that storms could change course very quickly," Bahamas Prime Minister Hubert Minnis said during a press conference Thursday, as the Tampa Bay Times reported. "They can intensify rapidly as we saw with hurricane Dorian. So I ask all Bahamians and residents to take this storm seriously and to make preparations."
Grand Bahama and Abaco, two of the islands in the Bahamas battered by Dorian, are also covered by the hurricane warning for Isaias, The Associated Press reported. People on both islands are still living in tents almost 11 months later.
(1/2) 🌀 11PM CDT: Latest on now Hurricane #Isaias. Here is a late-night infrared satellite view of the storm which… https://t.co/rOqbY1j0Vc— NWS New Orleans (@NWS New Orleans)1596168682.0
It is still unclear if Isaias will make landfall in Florida, lash the Florida coast without making a direct hit as it moves towards the Carolinas, or veer off into the Atlantic.
However, the state is preparing, in part by closing some of its coronavirus testing sites, CNN reported.
The approaching hurricane comes as Florida reported almost 10,000 new COVID-19 cases Thursday, and the combination of the two hazards complicates the response to each.
"Look, if we have a major hurricane here, then we're going to have to evacuate a number of people and then we're going to have to ... try to keep them separated as much as possible," Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Giménez told CNN. "That's a concern."
Isaias is the second hurricane in an early and active Atlantic hurricane season. Hanna, which battered Texas last weekend, was both the season's first hurricane and the earliest "H" storm on record.
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Scientists are rushing to Florida's Gulf Coast to explore a mysterious blue hole located 425 feet deep on the ocean floor.
The mysterious hole, called the Green Banana by scientists, is 155 feet below the surface of the water and is similar to a sink hole on land, according to scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), as ABC News reported.
In a statement, NOAA explained why blue holes are both perplexing and important:
"Little is known about blue holes due to their lack of accessibility and unknown distribution and abundance. The opening of a blue hole can be several hundred feet underwater, and for many holes, the opening is too small for an automated submersible. In fact, the first reports of blue holes did not come from scientists or researchers, but actually came from fishermen and recreational divers."
This sinkhole, which extends nearly 300 feet, is giving researchers from NOAA a chance to explore what purpose these holes serve and what effect they have on the ecosystem, according to Popular Mechanics.
NOAA said that there are many underwater sinkholes, springs and caverns scattered across Florida's Gulf continental shelf, but they have no idea how many there are or where to find them, as CBS News reported. Every hole differs in size, shape and depth, and scientists believe that most host a diverse range of plants and animals.
The year-long expedition of Green Banana will start in August, NOAA said. The team will include scientists from Mote Marine Laboratory, Florida Atlantic University, Georgia Institute of Technology and the U.S. Geological Society, as Phys.org reported.
According to researchers at Mote Marine Laboratory, the holes likely formed roughly 8,000 to 12,000 years ago, when the Florida coastline was about 100 miles further offshore from where it is now due to lower sea levels, as CBS News reported. While there is no clear discovery date, local fishermen and divers have wondered about the mysterious holes for decades.
"It was more like word of mouth ... these divers would go out and try to find it, and they had plenty of days where they didn't find anything and other days where, 'Eureka! There's a hole!'" researcher Emily Hall, a staff scientist and program manager at Mote Marine Laboratory, told CBS News.
The holes appear to host diverse biological communities full of marine life, including corals, sponges, mollusks, sea turtles and sharks. They also discovered two dead but intact smalltooth sawfish, an endangered species, at the bottom of the hole, according to NOAA. So far, NOAA scientists have collected 17 water samples from the area surrounding the hole along with four sediment samples, according to ABC News.
The researchers are hoping to see if the blue hole is secreting nutrients or harbors microenvironments or new species of microbes. They will also examine whether or not the blue holes are related to Florida's groundwater, or if the two affect each other in any way, and how the blue holes affect the global carbon cycle, according to CBS News.
Planning for the August expedition is remarkably complicated. Green Banana is 20 percent deeper than previously explored blue holes. "The configuration of the hole is somewhat hourglass shaped, creating new challenges for the lander deployment and water sampling," NOAA said, as Popular Mechanics reported.
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Florida has now confirmed more coronavirus cases than New York, the early epicenter of the U.S. outbreak, in another sign that the U.S. as a whole is struggling to control the deadly disease.
Florida became the second state after California to overtake New York's case count Sunday. It had 423,855 total cases to New York's 411,736, according to Sunday afternoon figures from Johns Hopkins University reported by NPR. California, the U.S.'s most populous state, remained in the lead with 450,242 cases, while Texas was in fourth place with 391,000, according to a Reuters tally.
"What we have right now are essentially three New Yorks," White House coronavirus task force coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx said of Florida, Texas and California on Friday, as the Financial Times reported. "That's why you hear us calling for masks and increased social distancing, to really stop the spread of this epidemic."
BREAKING: Florida has passed New York for 2nd in total COVID-19 cases. The top 5 states by total cases: 1) Califor… https://t.co/szC6VLGFFt— Florida Coronavirus Tracker (@Florida Coronavirus Tracker)1595783193.0
New York continues to hold the lead for coronavirus fatalities with more than 32,000, according to Reuters. Florida has the eighth most with nearly 6,000.
However, deaths are rising in Florida and across the nation. California, Texas and Florida all reported record increases in deaths this week, according to the Financial Times. Florida reported 970 deaths and 3,452 hospitalizations for the week ending Sunday, up from 758 deaths and 3,021 hospitalizations the week before, the Tampa Bay Times reported. COVID-19 is by far the deadliest infectious disease in the state this year. It is currently killing three times as many people as AIDS, viral hepatitis, the flu and pneumonia combined.
Nationwide, the death toll rose by more than 1,000 for a fifth day in a row Saturday, the Financial Times reported. Deaths averaged 876 a day for the week ending Saturday, the highest daily average since early June.
The mortality increase follows a surge in cases that brought the U.S. total to over four million last week.
However, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and state health officials thought new infections were beginning to plateau in the state, according to the Tampa Bay Times.
Birx also told NBC news there was evidence of plateauing in Florida, Texas, California and Arizona, another hard-hit state, as The Independent reported.
It is hard to tell which state really leads in cases since the pandemic began, The New York Times pointed out. That's because New York and California both experienced outbreaks early, when testing was still limited. A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study published this month calculated that the number of coronavirus infections could be two to 13 times higher than the official case count.
While they are neck and neck for confirmed cases, New York and Florida represent very different approaches to controlling the pandemic, according to NPR.
New York decreased infections and deaths by late spring, just as infections began to rise in Western and Southern states.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo lifted lockdown measures gradually and has required masks in public since April. Florida's DeSantis, meanwhile, has declined to mandate masks or impose new restrictions since most businesses were allowed to reopen in May.
Correction: An earlier version of this story said that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said state health experts thought cases were beginning to plateau in the state. The story has been updated to note that both DeSantis and state health officials said this.
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The threat of a catastrophic failure unleashing a 20-foot wall of industrial wastewater over nearby homes and businesses in Piney Point, Florida, illustrates the danger of widespread reliance on industrial waste ponds across the U.S., The New York Times reports.
Many of these ponds, filled with toxic and sometimes radioactive, byproducts of climate-change causing activity like coal ash from power plants or manure from industrialized farms, are also at risk because of climate change. Open lagoons make up the extent of waste processing infrastructure for industrial hog farming operations and coal-fired power plants and both were overwhelmed by Hurricane Florence in 2018, when more than 100 hog lagoons were swamped throughout the Carolinas and coal ash poured out of containment ponds at Duke's Sutton Plant in Wilmington, N.C.
"They're just an irresponsible way to store very dangerous waste," Daniel Estrin, general counsel at the Waterkeeper Alliance, a clean water nonprofit group, told the Times. "And with climate change, we're going to see more frequent and stronger storms that are going to impact these sites."
For a deeper dive:
- Biden Faces Pressure to Tackle 'Unfunded' Toxic Waste Sites ... ›
- All Coal-Fired Power Plants in Texas Found Leaking Toxins Into ... ›
By Jessica Corbett
A sheriff in Florida is under fire for deciding Tuesday to ban his deputies from wearing face masks while on the job—ignoring the advice of public health experts about the safety measures that everyone should take during the coronavirus pandemic as well as the rising Covid-19 death toll in his county and state.
Marion County Sheriff Billy Woods' email to his deputies announcing the mask ban was first reported by the local Ocala Star-Banner, which noted that the county "set a single-day record on Tuesday for the most deaths related to Covid-19, with 13 more deaths reported," bringing the total to 102.
Various outlets across the nation then picked up the story on Wednesday—including the Washington Post, which obtained a copy of Woods' email and pointed out that Florida also set a record in deaths related to Covid-19 on Tuesday. At least 277 deaths were recorded statewide, according to the Post.
Deaths hit a record in Florida yesterday. This guy's jail system is rife with COVID. And he's banned masks in his s… https://t.co/Cbp2wR32o1— Michael McAuliff (@Michael McAuliff)1597236002.0
The Post reported that Florida has seen over 542,000 cases and 8,600 deaths out of the nation's total 5.15 million cases and 162,000 deaths. As infections in Florida have soared in recent weeks, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis has been widely condemned for rushing to lift restrictions.
Although some local and state leaders in other parts of the country have implored police officers to cover their faces while on duty during the crisis or even issued face mask requirements and punished law enforcement officials for refusing to comply, DeSantis has not mandated masks for anyone.
But Woods, in his email, prohibited his officers from wearing masks, with limited exceptions for those who are in a local courthouse, hospital, jail, or public school, or otherwise directly interacting with people suspected of being infected with the virus. As the Star-Banner reported:
"For all of these exceptions, the moment that enforcement action is to be taken and it requires you to give an individual orders/commands to comply, the mask will be immediately removed," Woods said.
Woods said deputies who work special details or special events won't be allowed to wear masks unless it falls under the exceptions he provided.
"As for special details and/or any special events (paid or not), masks will not be worn. Effective immediately the entity that has requested and has hired a deputy for a special detail will be given clear instruction by Darian Tucker at the time of their written request that masks will not be worn (unless one of the exceptions above applies). In addition, if you are the special detail deputy you will again advise the contact person that a mask will not be worn by you," according to the email.
"Any deputies confronted by community members about not covering their faces should "politely and professionally tell them I am not required to wear a mask nor will I, per the Order of the Sheriff," and walk away, Woods wrote. Regarding the Marion County Sheriff's Office, "effective immediately, any individual walking in to any one of our lobbies (which includes the main office and all district offices) that is wearing a mask will be asked to remove it."
This actively puts peoples' lives at risk. https://t.co/GKF0Xgjyex— CAP Action (@CAP Action)1597248238.0
Woods tied his mask ban to a wave of national protests against police brutality toward Black Americans and calls for reform that were sparked by Minnesota police killing George Floyd in May, writing that "in light of the current events when it comes to the sentiment and/or hatred toward law enforcement in our country today, this is being done to ensure there is clear communication and for identification purposes of any individual walking into a lobby."
The sheriff also claimed—without any supporting evidence and in contrast with the vast majority of messages from public health experts about the importance of everyone wearing a mask throughout the pandemic to protect themselves and others—that "the amount of professionals that give the reason why we should, I can find the exact same amount of professionals that say why we shouldn't."
"Now, I can already hear the whining and just so you know I did not make this decision easily and I have weighed it out for the past two weeks," wrote Woods, who oversees about 900 employees, according to the local newspaper. "This is no longer a debate nor is it up for discussion. Please keep in mind this entire pandemic is fluid and constantly changing the way things are done. However, my orders will be followed or my actions will be swift to address."
In addition to denouncing Woods' decision as dangerous and out-of-line with medical consensus on masks and the CDC's official recommendation, some critics suggested the policy could encounter legal trouble.
As MSNBC political analyst Richard Stengel put it in a tweet Wednesday: "Apart from being monstrous and ignorant and irresponsible, isn't this a violation of the civil rights of officers who want to wear masks?"
Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.
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As if the surging cases of coronavirus weren't enough for Floridians to handle, now the state's Department of Health (DOH) has confirmed that a person in the Tampa area tested positive for a rare brain-eating amoeba, according to CBS News. The Florida DOH posted a warning to residents to remind them of the dangers of the rare single-celled amoeba that attacks brain tissue.
The amoeba is known, scientifically, as Naegleria fowleri. Only four people have survived Naegleria fowleri in the U.S. between 1962 and 2016, out of 143 who contracted the disease, as The Independent reported. There have been only 37 cases reported in Florida since 1962, which makes up nearly 26 percent of all instances in the U.S.
Naegleria fowleri is typically found in warm freshwater such as lakes, rivers and ponds. The Florida DOH has cautioned people who swim in those freshwater sources to be aware of the amoeba's possible presence, particularly when the water is warm, according to CNN.
The DOH did not disclose where in Hillsborough County the patient had contracted the amoeba, nor the patient's condition, according to The Independent.
The amoeba's deadly effects happen when it causes a rare infection of the brain called primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM), which destroys brain tissue and is usually fatal, according to Fox News.
"Infections can happen when contaminated water enters the body through the nose," the DOH said in its letter.
After the amoeba enters the nose through contaminated water, it then travels to the brain where it causes PAM, according to health officials.
"Infections usually occur when temperatures increase for prolonged periods of time, which results in higher water temperatures and lower water levels," health officials stated in their letter.
Health officials recommend using a nose plug, pinching your nose or keeping your head above water to avoid the amoeba. They also recommend avoiding water where conditions are ripe for the amoeba to thrive, such as warm freshwater around power plants and shallow fresh water during periods of high water temperature.
"Adverse health effects on humans can be prevented by avoiding nasal contact with the waters, since the amoeba enters through nasal passages," the DOH said, as CNN reported.
As CNN pointed out, the ancient tradition of treating congested sinuses with a neti pot can also increase the risk of infection.
"Use only boiled and cooled, distilled, or sterile water for making sinus rinse solutions for neti pots or performing ritual ablutions," the DOH said.
It is also possible to contract the amoeba in swimming pools that are not properly chlorinated. Since it's only contracted through the nose, there is no chance of developing PAM from drinking it, according to CBS News.
As CBS News noted, the typical symptoms of a Naegleria fowleri infection include severe frontal headache, fever, nausea and vomiting. Later symptoms include stiff neck, seizures, altered mental status, hallucinations and coma.
Signs of infection typically start a few days after swimming or other nasal exposure to contaminated water. People usually die within 1 to 18 days after symptoms begin.
"It is essential to seek medical attention right away, as the disease progresses rapidly after the start of symptoms," the health department said.
The DOH added that "this disease is rare and effective prevention strategies can allow for a safe and relaxing summer swim season," as The Independent reported.
- Flesh-Eating Bacteria Infects Three as Experts Warn Warming ... ›
- Brain-Eating Amoeba Found in Texas City's Water Spurs Disaster Declaration - EcoWatch ›
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Florida's Sunday caseload was more than any European country reported during the height of the outbreak there, Reuters reported.
"If Florida were a country, it would rank fourth in the world for the most new cases in a day behind the United States, Brazil and India," Reuters wrote.
MAY 20: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (@RonDeSantisFL) brags coronavirus outbreak “hasn’t happened.” JULY 12: Florida… https://t.co/PPHEMo2twh— Keith Boykin (@Keith Boykin)1594569844.0
It also reported more new cases than did New York when it was the epicenter of the U.S. outbreak. Sources are divided on the previous U.S. record. The Associated Press reported that California held the previous record with 11,694 new cases on Wednesday, while before the record went to New York with 11,571 on April 15. Reuters, meanwhile, gave the previous record to New York with 12,847 new cases on April 10; The New York Times also reported it was held by New York, but with 12,274 new cases April 4. But in any case, the record is an alarming milestone for the Sunshine State with real consequences for its hospitals.
"It has just been horrifically busy," University of South Florida infectious disease professor John Toney told The New York Times. "It's reminiscent of what everyone dealt with in New York. It's certainly putting a strain on a lot of the systems, even though hospitals are trying to accommodate."
Florida's record comes amidst a surge in cases nationwide and globally. Almost 40 states are seeing cases increase, and the U.S. broke world records by reporting around 60,000 new cases a day for the last four days, Reuters reported. Meanwhile, the World Health Organization reported a record of more than 230,000 new cases total Sunday, according to a New York Times update. The previous global record was set Friday, with more than 228,000 new cases.
Public health experts have attributed Florida's growing caseload to people gathering in crowds and moving around once the state began reopening.
"Bottom line is, more people are mobile and they're not necessarily taking the precautions we think would help," Dr. Marissa Levine, a professor at the University of South Florida College of Public Health, told The New York Times.
University of Florida epidemiologist Dr. Cindy Prins also attributed the spread to people gathering in crowds, gyms and some restaurants, as well as reports of illegal raves and clubs in South Florida.
"I really do think we could control this, and it's the human element that is so critical. It should be an effort of our country. We should be pulling together when we're in a crisis, and we're definitely not doing it," she told The Associated Press. "I know people want to live their lives. There have been a lot of other times, people have made those sacrifices in order to benefit our society. It's almost like a war effort. That's what we need right now."
Instead, the state is largely persisting with reopening efforts, which began in early May, according to NPR. Two of Disney World's parks reopened Saturday, and the other two are scheduled to reopen Wednesday. Schools have also been ordered to reopen for in-person classes in August.
"We know there are huge, huge costs for not providing the availability of in-person schooling," Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said, according to The Associated Press. "The risk of corona, fortunately, for students is incredibly low."
The outbreak in Florida is in some ways easier to manage than the outbreak in New York in April, The New York Times pointed out. Some of the increase in caseload is down to increased testing, and hospitals are better supplied and prepared to treat the disease. The state's death rate is also well below New York's at the outbreak's peak there.
However, daily death totals began rising in the state last week, The Associated Press reported. Health experts predicted this would be the case, since death rates tend to lag behind infection rates by two to four weeks. Florida reported 514 fatalities for this week, an average of 73 per day. It averaged 30 per day three weeks ago.
The U.S. as a whole reported a seven-day death average of 700 Saturday, up from 471 July 5, but still below the more than 2,200 daily deaths it averaged in mid-April, according to The New York Times.
Overall, the new coronavirus has sickened 269,811 people in Florida and killed 4,242, the state health department reported.
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By Robert Glennon
Interstate water disputes are as American as apple pie. States often think a neighboring state is using more than its fair share from a river, lake or aquifer that crosses borders.
Currently the U.S. Supreme Court has on its docket a case between Texas, New Mexico and Colorado and another one between Mississippi and Tennessee. The court has already ruled this term on cases pitting Texas against New Mexico and Florida against Georgia.
Climate stresses are raising the stakes. Rising temperatures require farmers to use more water to grow the same amount of crops. Prolonged and severe droughts decrease available supplies. Wildfires are burning hotter and lasting longer. Fires bake the soil, reducing forests' ability to hold water, increasing evaporation from barren land and compromising water supplies.
As a longtime observer of interstate water negotiations, I see a basic problem: In some cases, more water rights exist on paper than as wet water – even before factoring in shortages caused by climate change and other stresses. In my view, states should put at least as much effort into reducing water use as they do into litigation, because there are no guaranteed winners in water lawsuits.
Alabama, pay attention to Supreme Court ruling against Florida in water war #Water #SDG6 https://t.co/wIjdoY6Ccr— Noah J. Sabich (@Noah J. Sabich)1617800452.0
Dry Times in the West
The situation is most urgent in California and the Southwest, which currently face "extreme or exceptional" drought conditions. California's reservoirs are half-empty at the end of the rainy season. The Sierra snowpack sits at 60% of normal. In March 2021, federal and state agencies that oversee California's Central Valley Project and State Water Project – regional water systems that each cover hundreds of miles – issued "remarkably bleak warnings" about cutbacks to farmers' water allocations.
The Colorado River Basin is mired in a drought that began in 2000. Experts disagree as to how long it could last. What's certain is that the "Law of the River" – the body of rules, regulations and laws governing the Colorado River – has allocated more water to the states than the river reliably provides.
The 1922 Colorado River Compact allocated 7.5 million acre-feet (one acre-foot is roughly 325,000 gallons) to California, Nevada and Arizona, and another 7.5 million acre-feet to Utah, Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico. A treaty with Mexico secured that country 1.5 million acre-feet, for a total of 16.5 million acre-feet. However, estimates based on tree ring analysis have determined that the actual yearly flow of the river over the last 1,200 years is roughly 14.6 million acre-feet.
The inevitable train wreck has not yet happened, for two reasons. First, Lakes Mead and Powell – the two largest reservoirs on the Colorado – can hold a combined 56 million acre-feet, roughly four times the river's annual flow.
But diversions and increased evaporation due to drought are reducing water levels in the reservoirs. As of Dec. 16, 2020, both lakes were less than half full.
Second, the Upper Basin states – Utah, Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico – have never used their full allotment. Now, however, they want to use more water. Wyoming has several new dams on the drawing board. So does Colorado, which is also planning a new diversion from the headwaters of the Colorado River to Denver and other cities on the Rocky Mountains' east slope.
Utah Stakes a Claim
The most controversial proposal comes from one of the nation's fastest-growing areas: St. George, Utah, home to approximately 90,000 residents and lots of golf courses. St. George has very high water consumption rates and very low water prices. The city is proposing to augment its water supply with a 140-mile pipeline from Lake Powell, which would carry 86,000 acre-feet per year.
Truth be told, that's not a lot of water, and it would not exceed Utah's unused allocation from the Colorado River. But the six other Colorado River Basin states have protested as though St. George were asking for their firstborn child.
In a joint letter dated Sept. 8, 2020, the other states implored the Interior Department to refrain from issuing a final environmental review of the pipeline until all seven states could "reach consensus regarding legal and operational concerns." The letter explicitly threatened a high "probability of multi-year litigation."
Utah blinked. Having earlier insisted on an expedited pipeline review, the state asked federal officials on Sept. 24, 2020 to delay a decision. But Utah has not given up: In March 2021, Gov. Spencer Cox signed a bill creating a Colorado River Authority of Utah, armed with a $9 million legal defense fund, to protect Utah's share of Colorado River water. One observer predicted "huge, huge litigation."
How huge could it be? In 1930, Arizona sued California in an epic battle that did not end until 2006. Arizona prevailed by finally securing a fixed allocation from the water apportioned to California, Nevada and Arizona.
Litigation or Conservation
Before Utah takes the precipitous step of appealing to the Supreme Court under the court's original jurisdiction over disputes between states, it might explore other solutions. Water conservation and reuse make obvious sense in St. George, where per-person water consumption is among the nation's highest.
St. George could emulate its neighbor, Las Vegas, which has paid residents up to $3 per square foot to rip out lawns and replace them with native desert landscaping. In April 2021 Las Vegas went further, asking the Nevada Legislature to outlaw ornamental grass.
The Southern Nevada Water Authority estimates that the Las Vegas metropolitan area has eight square miles of "nonfunctional turf" – grass that no one ever walks on except the person who cuts it. Removing it would reduce the region's water consumption by 15%.
Water rights litigation is fraught with uncertainty. Just ask Florida, which thought it had a strong case that Georgia's water diversions from the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River Basin were harming its oyster fishery downstream.
That case extended over 20 years before the U.S. Supreme Court ended the final chapter in April 2021. The court used a procedural rule that places the burden on plaintiffs to provide "clear and convincing evidence." Florida failed to convince the court, and walked away with nothing.
Robert Glennon is a Regents Professor and Morris K. Udall Professor of Law & Public Policy, University of Arizona.
Disclosure statement: Robert Glennon received funding from the National Science Foundation in the 1990s and 2000s.
Reposted with permission from The Conversation.