After a glorious week here on No Name Key in the beautiful Florida Keys, I’m heading home and wondering whether the key deer and the other inhabitants, animals and humans of Monroe County will be able to live here towards the end of my life.
Much of the Keys sit at, near or even below current sea levels and over the last 10 or so years have increasingly been subjected to extensive flooding that will soon become more and more routine. It’s been well publicized that some communities in Key Largo, for example, have suffered flooding for nearly three months straight. News that the streets and bars in Key West are flooding have become commonplace. And, sadly, the problem is only going to get worse.
As I have noted in previous blogs, scientists predict that the number of “sunny day flooding” events will increase from the current 6 times per year to an estimated 80 times per year by 2030 and to 380 times per year by 2045, thus more than once a day as high and low tides fluctuate twice per day.
“If we asked for what we actually needed, we’d be in the billions of dollars.” Helene Wetherington, Monroe County Head of Disaster Recovery
It’s no wonder that the leaders of Monroe County have asked the State of Florida Department of Economic Opportunity for 150 million dollars to begin to address the problem: money that would be used to start to raise all sorts of things, such as roads. And while 150 million dollars sounds like an enormous sum of money, mitigating the problem will likely cost “billions” so says Helene Wetherington the Head of Disaster Recovery for Monroe County. You can read about Monroe County’s request and their perspective on this growing problem by clicking here.
And while I am headed back to Miami to finish this semester’s exams, I can’t help but wonder why Florida’s leaders or, for that matter, America’s are not doing more to rid our society of the fossil fuels that are contributing to so much of our climate crisis. Whether it’s hundreds of millions, billions or even trillions of dollars that must be spent to try and save some semblance of our current way of life here in South Florida, it would be so much less expensive if we would just get serious about solving the core problem before it’s too late.
I suppose as a college student on her Thanksgiving holiday break I could be excused for wanting to sleep in a bit late today. Catch up on the “Z’s”, rest and all of that.
And, yet, I woke up just after 5:00 AM today and sure am thankful that I could not go back to sleep.
No Name Key was cool and quiet in the pre-dawn darkness. With a cup of coffee and my phone in hand I enjoyed the early morning from our back porch overlooking the mirror-like calm waters of the Gulf of Mexico as the sun’s first light edged above the horizon. And what a sunrise it was! Filled with bright red, orange and yellow pasted against the black, blue and purple of the eroding night sky above and water below. No matter the reason for waking so early, I am most certainly thankful to have witnessed today’s Thanksgiving sunrise.
And I am thankful for the peace and quiet here on No Name. There are many reasons to protect places like No Name, a Federal wildlife refuge, and to keep them different from the developed places that increasingly surround us and the quiet is one of them. The frequent silence here is incredible and as dawn broke, it was only interrupted by the sound of the breeze blowing through the palm, mahogany and mangrove tree leaves. Literally not one other sound but the breeze blowing through the trees for nearly an hour.
I am also thankful to have seen No Name’s nature vividly come alive right before my eyes as that sun crept even higher. The first sign of life was a Key Deer walking quietly along the peninsula that is part of our property. My view was her reflection in the still water through a window-like opening in the mangrove trees. No sooner than I saw her reflection I could see the rest of her family, a buck and a doe, farther up the peninsula where they had spent the night under a star filled sky. I sure am thankful that we have laws protecting animals such as the Key Deer and the places that they live in like No Name.
As those deer disappeared in the distance I began to hear the unmistakable sound of a bird’s claws walking on the porch’s metal roof above me. I’ve heard that “tip-tap” many times before and knew it was the turkey vulture that so often is perched there so as to keep watch over the land below and anything that might move along it that qualifies as prey. Not long after hearing his claw steps he was airborne right in front of me, swooping back and forth perhaps 20 feet away. It was an incredible sight, his flight one way and back the other, but also an equally incredible sound as each turn led to a deep audible “swooping” as his wings caught the air while turning in the opposite direction. To have dawn’s silence broken by the sound of his flight, much less to see it up close, was a humbling reminder of nature’s perfection.
And perfectly fitting for a Thanksgiving morning is what led that bird to so elegantly swing back and forth; his unmistakable hunt for food. As the sun light became brighter I could see that the turkey vulture had spied his morning meal: a dead raccoon floating at the water’s edge under the mangrove branches.
It was a remarkable sight, the type of thing one could never fully experience buried in our phone or computer-driven virtual worlds. And as that thought sank in, another turkey vulture joined the meal. And then another and another and another yet again. By then the birds had dragged their meal up the bank and onto land to enjoy their feast together in a circle of life display that was simply perfect on Thanksgiving.
And that’s when the American alligator showed up to begin its Thanksgiving.
No Name is filled with many magical creatures including the American crocodile and its “cousin” the American alligator. This one in particular is a juvenile, about 4 feet long, and lives under our mangroves on the peninsula. I see it virtually every day in the early morning light and just before dark as it patrols the waters next to our home in search of food. And this morning it found a bounty worthy, well, of Thanksgiving. The turkey vultures, as numerous as they now were, did not have a chance against the young gator as she crawled up the bank and pulled what was now her meal into the murky water as you can see in the video below.
So many things to be thankful for again this year, and that starts with our amazing natural environment. From the peace and lively nature that is No Name Key, from my family and me, to you and yours, here’s to hoping that your Thanksgiving is filled with friends and family. Happy Thanksgiving.
Of all the strange and worrisome things that took place in Washington this year perhaps the worst was news earlier this month that the Trump Administration had provided the Center for Disease Control (CDC) a list of seven words or phrases that it does not want used (click here to read the article). In essence, those words and phrases are being censored. Learning this reminded me about deceased comedian George Carlin’s bit about Seven Words You Can’t Say On TV, but nothing, of course, about news that our government has censored scientific words or phrases is funny. In fact, censorship is dangerous.
Personally, 2017 has been a remarkable year that I will never forget. I graduated from high school and late this year finished my first semester at the University of Miami while being selected as an Intern in Dr. Hammerschlag’s renowned Shark Research and Conservation Lab. In between, I was awarded the Miami Herald’s Silver Knight Award for Social Science and the Inaugural National Geographic Teen Service Award, among other honors.
Over the summer I helped enact Florida’s first solar mandate law that made The Sunshine State only the second in America with such a progressive step towards sustainability. And I traveled to New York twice, once for the amazing, humbling, honor to address the United Nations General Assembly on behalf of the UNESCO World Heritage Marine Programme and the Everglades National Park on World Oceans Day, and the second time to work with MTV and former Vice President Al Gore in support of his new book and movie An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power. And speaking of books, my work with The Sink or Swim Project was mentioned in two important books: Truth to Power and Utilizing Innovative Technologies to Address the Public Health Impact of Climate Change.
I was also honored to lecture to thousands of young people this year in elementary, middle and high school, as well as various colleges in Central and South Florida. And this fall I was named a member of the Board of Directors of the CLEO Institute.
But of all the things that I did this year, perhaps the most important in my view was helping conceive, organize and then hosting the inaugural March for Science Miami in April with a group of incredible women. Evidence based, peer reviewed science is the very foundation of discovery and innovation and, thus, the news earlier this month that our federal government would censor the use of scientific phrases is somewhere between sick and scary.
In a democracy where free speech is embraced and cherished as a core, founding value of our country, it is impossible to understand how our government could dictate that these, or any, words or phrases (vulnerable, entitlement, diversity, transgender, fetus, evidence-based, and science-based) be outlawed and this should alarm every American no matter their political affiliation.
But, of course, this does not completely surprise those of us here in Florida were our Governor, Rick Scott, himself a close ally and confidant to President Trump, has outlawed phrases such as global warming, climate change and sea level rise from his administration. And he’s doing this knowing well and good that communities all over our region are being forced to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to begin fighting the exact threats the Governor pretends to overlook. Censorship is not ‘normal politics’, it’s unethical and immoral and it must stop.
So, as the sun sets on 2017 here on No Name Key here’s hoping that science and scientists will be embraced by every American in 2018 and that censorship of any type will never be tolerated.