Florida Earth Watch
Florida is home to 68 threatened or endangered animals and more than 500 endangered or threatened plant species. Will future development be kinder to our environment?
» Floridians killed so many alligators that 40 years ago, scientists were sure they’d be extinct in the new century. Instead, the state has 1½ million of them — one for every 12 Floridians.
» In 1973, only 88 active bald eagle nests could be found in Florida. Surveys last year counted nearly 1,200 active nests in the Sunshine State, third only to Alaska and Minnesota.
Reason to Hope
These species are still considered endangered, but are no longer as near extinction as they were in recent years.
» Key deer: In 1957, only 27 remained. Since the creation of the National Key Deer Refuge, 8,400 acres on Big Pine Key, their population has risen to about 800.
» Green turtle: These animals are some of the oldest on earth. Mote Marine in Sarasota and other conservation groups have been involved in efforts that have boosted their numbers.
» Florida panther: Once down to 35, there are now about 100.
»American crocodile: The population has increased to 1,500 from only 300 in 1975, mostly as a result of conservation efforts in south Florida. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Conservation Service is considering reclassifying American crocodiles as “threatened” rather than endangered.
» Whooping crane: Since 1941, the crane population has increased from 22 to approximately 450, but humans have to teach the captive-bred birds how to migrate to their winter home in Florida.
» Birds: Among the endangered species are the Cape Sable seaside sparrow and the wood stork (top of page).
» Fish: Shortnose sturgeon, blackmouth shiner and Okaloosa darter.
» Reptiles: In addition to the green turtle, the hawksbill, Kemp’s ridley and several other turtle species are endangered.
» Among endangered mammals are a number of species of rats and mice, including the St. Andrews beach mouse, three bat species and five kinds of whales, including North Atlantic right whales, which calve in waters along Florida’s northeast coast.
» Still endangered is Florida’s signature marine mammal, the West Indian manatee. Approximately 3,200 manatees remain in the southeastern U.S., most concentrated in Florida year-round. Hundreds die every year — 317 last year and 417 in 2006.
The Florida Wildlife Commission reports that at least 34 species of plants and animals native to Florida no longer exist.
» Most recently, the Dusky Seaside Sparrow once thrived around the salt marshes of Merritt Island and the St. Johns River; those marshes were sprayed with DDT for mosquito control and later drained for highway construction. The last female of the species was seen in 1975; the sparrow was declared extinct in 1990.
In the last 50 years, more than 8 million acres of forest and wetland habitats, or about a third of the state, have been cleared for urbanization, according to the state Department of Environmental Protection. In 1990, about 19 acres of forested wetlands and agricultural land were being converted for urban use every hour. Today, Florida’s ecosystems are the most endangered of all 50 states, according to DEP.
Florida is home to 534 endangered and threatened plant species, including a number of orchids and ferns, among them the Miami lead plant, parsley fern, fragrant maidenhair fern, Southern swamp aster and Carter’s orchid.
The news isn’t all bad, however. The Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan is the largest ecosystem restoration under way on the planet. Florida has preserved more land with conservation buys than any other state or nation, 6 million acres in all.
In addition, a restoration of parts of the Kissimmee River is under way and is succeeding. Florida once spent $35 million turning the river into a canal; today, it’s spending $620 million to restore parts of the river to their natural condition.
| Links: Read Susan Cerulean’s new Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission report, “Florida 2060: What’s
at Stake for Wildlife?” go to the Links page.