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Algae blooms. Iguanas headed north. That's climate change. | Editorial

An aerial photo shows blue-green algae enveloping an area along the St. Lucie River in 2016. Algae has been spotted in Gulfport and Treasure Island in recent weeks. Associated Press (2016)
An aerial photo shows blue-green algae enveloping an area along the St. Lucie River in 2016. Algae has been spotted in Gulfport and Treasure Island in recent weeks. Associated Press (2016)
Published Jul. 5, 2019

It's been a tough week for anyone who cares about Florida's environment and the effects of climate change. First, we learned that blue-green algae is infecting waterways in Treasure Island and Gulfport. There's no way to know exactly what caused the most recent outbreak of the foul smelling ooze, but it's a good bet we brought this on ourselves, or at least helped make it worse. Whether it's leaky septic tanks, runoff from our lawns or too much farm waste flowing into waterways, we've created conditions ripe for algae to take hold. And don't forget that a 2014 Climate Assessment Report predicted more blooms in Florida as the globe warms.

In recent years, massive algae blooms contaminated the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers, which flow from they highly polluted Lake Okeechobee. The algae choked ecosystems and killed fish and other marine life. Fishing guides, retailers and other businesses that rely on the rivers lost money. Aerial images of the bright green menace were beamed around the world, hardly the best advertisement for a state that relies heavily on tourism.

Algae blooms can happen naturally, without human help. But there's growing evidence that we are providing fuel for more blooms that grow larger and stick around longer. We shouldn't think of that as a new normal, another reality of living in Florida that we can't do anything about. We can and we should. Gov. Ron DeSantis took a good first step recently by creating the Blue-Green Algae Task Force. But it can't be window dressing. The task force needs to come up with practical solutions. This is not the time for partisan bickering.

This week we also learned how roseate spoonbills have adapted to the changing climate by migrating away from South Florida and into central and north Florida, Georgia and South Carolina. While the spoonbills have so-far thrived, the same article reiterated that 40 percent of the Earth's 10,000 bird species are in decline, thanks in large part to human interference.

A separate report came out about how green iguanas have moved further north in Florida thanks to a warming planet. The invasive species already plague several south Florida counties. Their digging causes erosion and undermines water control projects including canals and sea walls. Green iguanas are such a scourge that the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission encourages homeowners to kill any that wander onto their property.

Finally, an analysis of satellite imagery showed that sprawling mats of sargassum seaweed floating in the Atlantic are much more prevalent than before 2011. Reports of sargassum-clogged oceans date back to at least Christopher Columbus, but something has changed in recent years, the researchers concluded. They correlated the sargassum explosion to an increase in fertilizer used on farms that continue to replace the Amazon rainforest. Florida's beach communities should expect more of the seaweed, which stinks as it decays, they said.

Too many of Florida's leaders have been slow to react to climate change and the assault on the state's environment. Too many denied anything was happening before moving onto the equally absurd notion that humans have little or no influence on the changes. That's dangerous thinking, and fortunately it seems to be on the decline in Tallahassee. The state must be cleared-eyed about the environmental realities. This week's news highlights why.

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