Florida

Creating a Haven for the Creatures of the Florida Keys

 

Taken by: John D. Ivanko/ecopreneuring.biz

Taken by: John D. Ivanko/ecopreneuring.biz

As my family drove our rental car along the unfamiliar Florida highways, I looked out the window. When we arrived where we staying, I got out of the car.  I stood still and the animals popped out. It revealed to me that you have to slow down to truly see nature at it’s fullest. You see more of nature in the middle of a hiking trail, standing still, than driving by.  What really struck me when I got out of the car was the sheer diversity of the plants and animals surrounding me. In the marina behind our rental house, there were pelicans, cormorants, anoles and so much more. It was not only the diversity of animals but also the diversity of plants that amazed me. I saw everything from coconut trees to mangroves (and in the rental next to us they even had a cactus).  Filled with this wonder of the nature surrounding me, I slept that night with my dreams filled with amazing plants and animals. The next morning my parents woke me up and we went out to an island. As we sped our boat out to the island, I looked in the water and I saw nothing. As I looked at the island from a distance, I saw no living animals. But as soon as I got off our boat and slowed down, it was like my vision had changed.  There were pelicans in the mangroves and anoles climbing around and little Sergeant Major fish swimming around the shallows of our island.  I learned from my trip to Florida that to enjoy something to its fullest, you have to slow down.  Just like eating chocolate bars, you slow down to get the deep flavors.

 

Unfortunately, some animals in this amazing ecosystem have problems:

• Turtles

The turtles have problems because a large part of a turtle’s diet is jelly fish. A turtle can very easily mistake a plastic bag for a jelly fish and eat the bag and then have stomach problems and possibly die.

• Cormorants

Cormorants are a small, one-and-a-half-foot tall bird (only slightly larger that a duck) . It waddles along road in search of food.  A hungry cormorant is a determined one. If it spots a fish in a pond across the road, the cormorant will waddle across the road only to be hit by a car.  Since cormorants are so short, drivers can’t see them and accidentally hit them.  I learned a lot about what I know about cormorants from Kelly Grinter, founder of the Marathon Wild Bird Center.

• Gulls

Gulls are a nuisance to fisherman because they eat the bait off of their fishing poles. Some fishermen get mad and throw rocks at the gulls. The stone could cause serious damage. Gulls also swallow hooks and fishing line from fishing poles when they steal the fish.

But there are people and organizations out there that are working to help these poor injured animals.  The Marathon Turtle Hospital is located on Marathon Key in Florida.  They work to help turtles that have been injured in the wild.  They have an operating room, a physical therapy room and even a lab. They save over a hundred turtles every year. Not content with just saving turtles, they also give lots of educational programs to help people understand how to protect turtles.

It’s not just turtles that people are working to help. The Marathon Wild Bird Center is working to help heal injured birds. Kelly Grinter and her volunteer staff are constantly working to help get these injured birds back into the wild.

But you can also help make life a safer place for these animals!  Just doing simple things like picking up trash and using reusable water bottles can save an amazing animal’s life.  If you are a fisherman, and you have broken fishing line, be sure to dispose of the line properly so it does not end up in the water.

If we all work together we can create a safe haven for the amazing creatures of the Florida Keys and animals everywhere!

Liam is eleven years old and lives in Wisconsin. He likes to read books and go on adventures with his friends. He also likes to have fun with his family. Liam enjoys exploring nature, writing about it and, most of all, helping protect it.

 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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The crumbling coral reef and what you can do to protect it

Photo taken by John D. Ivanko

By: Liam

When I snorkeled around the coral reef of the Florida Keys, it felt as though I was flying because the water was as clear as air. I felt like I was hovering 15 feet above the ground with fish flying beneath me. I was inspired to learn more about the ecosystem and this is what I learned.

Coral reefs are a unique ecosystem like no other. Some of the fish that live there don’t live anywhere else. Coral is a living animal just like us. They spend their lives on the bottom of the sea. They are an important part of the ecosystem since they provide shelter and food to the fish. 

What problems face coral reefs?

One of the big problems that the reef faces is the exotic and invasive species such as the lionfish. The lionfish got to the reef by extraordinary means.   The problem started when the aquarium trade released lionfish into the wild. Although they have been in Florida for decades the only recently came to the Keys. They are now multiplying quickly.  The lionfish is a predator that eats young fish.  Lots of young fish are unable to survive. The lionfish has poisonous spines along its back.  Not even the sharks dare to attack a lionfish.

Another problem is this beautiful reef has become a tourist destination and some careless tourists will harm the reef. If you step on coral, it will die. With thousands of people going on the reefs every year, it really wears down the reef. Just like everywhere else, Florida also has a problem with people throwing trash into the ocean.

How to help protect the reef and what others are doing

• Eat the Right Fish

A local fisherman and owner of Castaways Restaurant, John Mirabella, spearfishes lionfish and serves it at his restaurant. Although you might not be able to fish the lionfish like John does, you can chose to eat fish that is sustainably raised and harvested. My family uses Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch app for the iPod.  The app shows you what fish are more common and which ones are being overfished so you can make your choice more responsibly. 

 • Travel Responsibly

Use responsible outfitters to go snorkeling. Some outfitters will gather everybody together and tell him or her all about the reefs and how to be careful with the reef and teach you not to damage it.

 • Collect Garbage

This is a very simple one to do.  It takes just minutes but it can save many marine animals’ lives. My family collects bits of plastic and cans when we were at the beach. It is a simple way to protect the animals of the reef.

If you are inspired by this blog, do something to protect and preserve the reef. I hope that you may be interested to help wash the reefs’ problems away.

Bio:  Liam is eleven years old and loves to tinker with technology, read books and go on adventures with his friends. He enjoys exploring nature, writing about it and, most of all, helping protect it.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Around the Water Cooler: Steps to Protect Waterways

By Lahne Mattas-Curry

It’s cold and dreary around my area, but what better time to think about a warm beach vacation? Think about your favorite beach—warm clear water to swim in, pristine sand to lay on and great seafood to fill our bellies. But what if those didn’t exist?

Nutrient pollution pollution caused by excess nitrogen and phosphorus can cause major “dead zones,” essentially making all those things we love about the beach nonexistent. The state of Florida has been working to protect its important commodities – beaches, water and seafood—and recently set limits on allowable nutrient levels.

EPA scientists and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection are exploring using “numeric nutrient criteria” to protect Florida’s estuaries. For example, EPA research on seagrasses is being used to develop water clarity targets. EPA scientist Jim Hagy says, “the steady decline of aquatic life caused by too much nutrient pollution will give way to limits on pollution, eventually improving water quality.

Image Credit: Hans W. Paerl 2006

Nutrient pollution found in our water comes from a variety of sources including agriculture, aquaculture, septic tanks, urban wastewater, urban stormwater runoff, and industry. Nutrient pollution can even come from burning fossil fuels such as coal and oil. These excess nutrients can enter water from the air, surface water, or groundwater. In other words, the problem is everywhere.

Of course, it’s not just what’s happening in Florida that affects Florida’s water quality. Anything upstream has impact on those waterways and the same for all waterways around the country. Such development of allowable limits on nutrient levels should provide information for other places around the country looking to protect their water, too. While it’s challenging work, this example shows that it’s possible to make an impact in keeping our waterways clean and safe.

For more information on our nutrient research, please visit: http://epa.gov/research/waterscience/water-nutrients.htm

About the Author: Lahne Mattas-Curry loves the beach and seafood and clean water. (Who doesn’t?) She is a frequent contributor to Around the Water Cooler and works with the Safe and Sustainable Water Resources research team to communicate their work.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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