In the News

Check below for the latest environmental news from Jacksonville and around the state.

From the Local News Media

UF professors: Resurrecting Fort Mose, America’s first sanctioned free Black settlement
From Florida Times-Union Guest Columnists Dr. Kathleen Deagan & Dr. Jane Landers
More than 300 years ago, a crowded dugout canoe carrying 11 exhausted African freedom seekers arrived in St. Augustine. They had journeyed more than 200 miles from South Carolina, where they had been enslaved by English settlers.
When they arrived that day in 1687, Spanish officials in St. Augustine gave them sanctuary and refused to return them when English slaveowners demanded their fugitive slaves back. They were the first of many Africans to reach Spanish Florida. Six years later, King Charles II of Spain decreed that all who fled Protestant colonies seeking baptism into the “true faith” of Catholicism would be freed.
Today, three centuries later, a tribute to those freedom seekers is rising on the edge of a Florida marsh — a physical representation of Fort Mose, the settlement and fort built just north of St. Augustine by these formerly enslaved people. Although no trace of that fort remains today — other than a faint outline captured by satellite scanners — its appearance is being resurrected through historical documents, maps, archaeological data and space age imagery.

Jacksonville Beach plans miles of walking-biking trails. Not everyone is happy about it.
By Matt Soergel, Jacksonville Florida Times-Union
Jacksonville Beach has proposed building 27 miles of trails, wide paths envisioned as a way for pedestrians and bicyclists to move about safely throughout the mostly narrow streets of the oceanfront city.
The city's plans for the Urban Trails Project call for it to be built in stages over perhaps the next 15 years, with priority given to paths on several east-west roads, allowing bicyclists and pedestrians to get to the beach safely. Work is expected to begin in the summer.
Many residents, however, worry what it might mean for their front yards and property values, as the trail, which would be 10 feet in many parts, would be built on city-owned right-of-ways — many of which residents have been using as part of their yards, complete with driveways, fences and landscaping.
That led to a fractious public meeting this month as angry residents repeatedly shouted down city officials and a consultant.

2023 State of the River Report: What’s Next?
St. Johns Riverkeeper
The 2023 Lower St. Johns River Report (LSJRR) provides a stark reminder of the fragile health of our river and its tributaries, but also documents the powerful combination of responsible regulation, reasonable incentives, education, citizen advocacy and political will to protect Florida waters for today and for future Floridians.

LaVilla Heritage Trail Proposed
The Jaxon
From ragtime, blues and jazz, to the Great Migration, the Civil Rights Movement, and many local food dishes we enjoy today, the neighborhood of LaVilla has played a significant role. The proposed LaVilla Heritage Trail is an interpretive marker project that will share the unique and largely overlooked history of sites within LaVilla and the individuals and events associated with them. On Thursday, December 14th, a public meeting will be held at the Ritz Theatre & Museum to continue discussions and planning efforts for the cultural heritage trail. The meeting, which will begin at 5:30 p.m. is free and open to the public.

An indigenous history: UNF profs to tell the story of Northeast Florida's Mocama people
By Matt Soergal, Florida Times-Union
Two University of North Florida professors have won a $250,000 grant to bring to life a book that tells the story of the indigenous people who lived in the area for thousands of years, with the aim of putting them front and center in a historic narrative in which they've often been overlooked.
Even in their dealings with the French and Spanish colonists and soldiers — a relatively brief but terribly consequential period in their history — the natives of coastal Northeast Florida and Southeast Georgia were far from passive people who went meekly to their fate, as often depicted,
It's far more complex and much deeper than that, said Keith Ashley, a UNF archaeologist who's spent about 25 years searching the sandy soil of the area to piece together the story of the local Mocama people, their ancestors and other indigenous tribes who moved through the area.
On one recent fine autumn day just ahead of Native American Heritage Month in November, they walked the woods of Fort Caroline National Memorial on the south bank of the St. Johns River, for which they have already created an online study guide, "Indigenous Fort Caroline: A Digital Walking Tour."
Ed Note: This is a great article! Read the whole thing!

From the Florida Conservation Coalition

Read Will Florida manatees be listed as an endangered species again? Feds to review data. - “In the wake of thousands of Florida manatee deaths in recent years, federal wildlife officials Wednesday announced they will launch a new scientific review to determine whether the animal should be reclassified as an endangered species. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in the coming months will round up manatee data and decide whether the West Indian manatee species should be given bolstered protections under the federal Endangered Species Act… the advocacy groups who petitioned the wildlife service pointed to the widespread seagrass loss in the Indian River Lagoon, and across Florida, as a reason why the manatee should once again be considered an endangered species. Max Chesnes reports for the Tampa Bay Times.

Read Preserving ‘Heart of the Everglades’ sparks fuss over access by Florida airboat operators - “Airboat tour companies are clustered around the Everglades the way taxis cluster around major airports. Both are angling to reel in those tourist dollars. But now, some of the tour operators are afraid they’ll be forced out of business by an unusual threat. WBBH-TV had the story last week, headlined: “Airboat industry on alert after state land acquisition in Florida Everglades.” That last part is the good news: For $29.5 million, the state of Florida signed on the line that is dotted, as they say in “Glengarry Glen Ross,” to buy more than 11,000 undeveloped acres in Collier County west of State Road 29 and south of U.S. 41. The people who wrangled this slice of old Florida into public hands dubbed it “the Green Heart of the Everglades… in the meantime, kayakers and other people who’d like to use that property for recreation have hopes of breaking the stranglehold the airboat operators have long enjoyed, Schwartz said. The airboats “are loud, they scare off the wildlife and they’re not compatible with paddling,” he said. “There’s no question that airboats are a high-impact recreational activity.” The state needs to create a no-motor zone that keeps the airboats away from the people who take a less intense approach, Schwartz said..” Craig Pittman writes for the Florida Phoenix.

Read Report says better management needed for Florida's wastewater - “A new report says amid the Sunshine State's burgeoning population growth, better wastewater stewardship by replacing aging infrastructure is needed. Florida TaxWatch has released a report on the state’s use of septic tanks and their environmental effects. The report states that protecting Florida’s ground and surface water is essential to public health and supporting population growth. President and CEO Dominic M. Calabro states in the report foreword, that Florida’s water is at risk because even properly working septic tanks are seeping heavy nutrients into groundwater. Florida has approximately 2.6 million septic tanks and drain fields… a study conducted in 2008 by the Florida Department of Health found that over half of Florida’s septic tanks were over 30 years old at that time. Now those tanks are over 45 years old and prone to failure. The report further states that the state research office says in its 20-year needs analysis that significant investment is needed to convert septic systems to sewers. Around $2 billion in funding has already been secured, however, the project still needs an additional $6.7 billion…” Andrew Powell writes for the Center Square.

From Progress Florida

A Miccosukee-led plan could finally end new oil drilling efforts in the Everglades
By Alex Harris
Miami Herald
Miles below Big Cypress National Preserve, land of elegant cypress trees festooned with air plants, there is oil.

Proposed bill would restore mangroves to help fight coastal erosion
By Cait McVey
Spectrum News Tampa Bay
As climatologists predict more frequent and stronger storms, Florida coastlines face the risk of erosion.

Zero Waste 101: Everything You Need to Know
By: Paige Bennett, EcoWatch
Quick Key Facts
- Zero waste dates back to the 1970s when the term was coined by chemist Paul Palmer.
- Today, zero waste includes the 5 Rs: refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle and rot.
- A zero-waste approach can reduce waste management emissions by 84%.
- About 146 million tons of waste end up in landfills in the U.S. alone each year.
- Food is the largest component of landfilled waste, about 24%.
- The U.S. food system requires 10.11 quadrillion British thermal units (Btu) of energy.
- Clothing production requires 79 billion cubic meters of water per year.
- Global e-waste reached 53.6 million metric tons from 2010 to 2019.
- Recycling produces about nine times more jobs than landfill disposal.
- Composting produces about double the amount of jobs that landfill disposal requires.
What is Zero Waste?
You’ve likely heard the old adage, “reduce, reuse, recycle.” While this has been a cornerstone of sustainability, with many kids hearing this golden rule over the years and repeating these steps well into adulthood, there’s a more updated framework that can help consumers strive for zero-waste lifestyles.
Zero-waste refers to principles of minimizing waste production as much as possible. Béa Johnson of Zero Waste Home calls the framework for zero-waste the 5 Rs: refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle, and rot.

From the Sierra Club

Earth’s Global Annual Temperature Tests 1.5°C for the First Time
2023 was the hottest year on record, and scientists agree the warming trend will continue without the rapid phase-out of fossil fuels
By Jonathan Hahn, Sierra Magazine
A leading independent climate-reporting institution, Berkeley Earth, has found that the planet’s global annual temperature breached 1.5°C, or 2.7°F, above preindustrial levels for the first time.

NASA Project Helps Researchers Understand How the Arctic Is Responding to Climate Change
Data from the Arctic-Boreal Vulnerability Experiment could help inform future policy and conservation measures for northern latitudes
By Saima Sidik, Sierra Magazine
The north reveals climate change like few other places. Buildings destabilized by thawing permafrost, ice from winter rains that prevents caribou from foraging, and eroding coastlines that threaten to send whole towns into the sea—these have become staples of the Arctic and the boreal forest that encircles it.
This region encompasses a swath of vegetation stretching millions of square miles, making it a major player when it comes to terrestrial carbon dynamics. The boreal forest stores at least a quarter of the live carbon in Earth’s forests, and the permafrost beneath the Arctic-Boreal ecosystem stores up to 60 percent of the planet’s soil carbon. If these greenhouse gases were released, it would be equivalent to several times the annual carbon emissions of the top 10 greenhouse-gas-emitting countries combined.

What Is Lichen?
Here's everything you need to know about one of nature's most symbiotic partnerships
By Ashia Ajani, Sierra Magazine
During a stroll through a city or a forest, one may encounter fuzzy growths on trees and rocks alike. Are they lichens? Mosses? Algae? Often, people use these words interchangeably, but each refers to a distinct organism with its own raison d'être. Mosses are singular organisms; lichens are composites. A lichen is formed when fungi and algae (or cyanobacteria) enter a symbiotic partnership: The alga provides nutrients, and the fungus provides a body, or thallus, for the alga.

In 2023, Outdoors for All Uplifted Voices Amid Victories
By Jackie Ostfeld, Director of the Sierra Club's Outdoors For All Campaign
Access to nature is a human right, but far too many communities face barriers preventing them from experiencing the benefits of parks and green spaces. Whether it’s a lack of close-to-home natural areas, the cost of transportation, or extreme heat caused by climate change, low-income communities are suffering from the nature equity gap. Sierra Club’s Outdoors for All team, working alongside our chapters, beloved partners and young leaders, has made significant strides to expand outdoor access this year. There’s still a long way to go, but what we have managed to achieve so far deserves to be celebrated.

From Other Sources


Plastic Bag Bans in U.S. Have Reduced Plastic Bag Use by Billions, Report Says
By: Paige Bennett, EcoWatch
Great news! A new report from nonprofits Environment America, U.S. Public Interest Research Group Education Fund and Frontier Group has found that bans on plastic bags around the U.S. have already reduced the number of bags used by billions.


Hertz Begins Selling Off EVs, Plans to Buy Gas Vehicles as Replacements
By: Paige Bennett, EcoWatch
Rental car company Hertz is selling off 20,000 of electric vehicles in its fleet, with plans to replace these vehicles with internal combustion engine vehicles.
The company cited high repair expenses and low demand as its reasons to sell the EVs, Utility Dive reported.

2024 Florida Legislative Session
By Casey Darling Kniffin, Conservation Policy Director, Florida Wildlife Federation
The 2024 Florida Legislative Session commenced today, January 9th, and will run through March 8th. The Florida Wildlife Federation is committed to ensuring accountability and speaking up for Florida’s wildlife and habitats.  
This year, to protect Florida, the Federation is focusing on robust land conservation funding and freeing the Ocklawaha River by partially breaching the Rodman/Kirkpatrick Dam. We remain vigilant and ready to oppose proposed legislation that could adversely impact Florida’s natural resources as we have done in years past.  
Last year, we called for the veto of SB 540, a bill that would limit citizen engagement in community planning and pave the way for sprawl. Unfortunately, that bill passed, and the pattern of stifling citizen engagement returns this session. We are already working diligently to stop SB 738 Environmental Management and ask that you join us in opposition.
As the 2024 session unfolds, we will share pressing threats as well as opportunities to protect and preserve this place we all love.

Gov. DeSantis appoints 6 to Environmental Regulation Commission, including a big donor
By Jesse Scheckner, Florida Politics
Gov. Ron DeSantis appointed six people to the Environmental Regulation Committee (ERC). Three gave to his last gubernatorial campaign. One donated five figures.

FAU environmental survey: 90% of Floridians acknowledge climate change
By Amira Kattaria, University Press
FAU’s Center for Environmental Studies (CES) partnered with the Business and Economics Polling Initiative for a recent survey and found virtual unanimity — 90% of Floridians believe climate change is taking place.