American tourists aren’t the only folks lining up to visit Cuba.
Biologists want to go there, too, to document and study the island-nation’s unique ecosystem, much of which is similar to South Florida.
The United States and Cuba agreed in 2014 to end a half-century of animosity. It’s been 13 months since the official agreement was signed between the two nations, and representatives from both countries held a press conference call Thursday to discuss how these science partnerships will work.
Ecologically, this part of Florida is more similar to a Caribbean island than any mainland state. Studying plants and animals in Cuba will help preserve and restore populations here.
One project already underway is an attempt to repatriate orchid species that have gone extinct in Florida but still survive in Cuba. Scientists with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and Florida Fish and Wildlife Service are also working with Cuban botanists in hopes of repatriating a handful of orchids that no longer grow in the historic Everglades. The idea is to get seeds from Cuba, plant those seeds in a lab and then strap the adult plants to trees, where they will hopefully become a seed source for future generations.
“They are committed to working with us, so it’s just a matter of finding plants that have seed capsules,” Dennis Giardina, with FWC, said on a previous outing with The News-Press. “We’ve gotten seed capsules from three of the four, but only two of them have grown in the lab.”
Fakahatchee Strand State Preserve Park is an 85,000-acre preserve in Collier County that is considered by experts to be the orchid capital of North America.
Hundreds of species of orchids and bromeliads flourished here until about a century ago, when coastal areas from Fort Myers to Miami were becoming urbanized. With more people came more stealing, and by the 1980s many species here were extinct. Poaching is still a threat as several ghost orchids were ripped from their host tree in Fakahatchee Strand State Preserve in 2013 and 2014.
Scientists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration are working with Cuba’s National Center for Protected Areas and will be focusing on areas like Florida Keys National Sanctuaries, the Dry Tortugas and Biscayne National parks.
Property rights group sounds off on manatee reclassification
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced last week its plans to reclassify the West Indian manatee from endangered to threatened.
The reclassification comes after Pacific Legal Foundation, in 2014, filed a suit against the agency for failing to act on a 2012 petition, in which PLF — representing nonprofit group Save the Crystal River Inc. — asked FWS to consider downlisting the manatee from endangered to threatened. Save the Crystal River enlisted the help of PLF after manatee boating zones were proposed for Kings Bay, which would have increased driving time for boaters living in the Crystal River area.
PLF issued the following statement from attorney Christina Martin: “The good news is that the manatee is increasing and federal officials are finally acknowledging this fact. The bad news is that federal officials took so long to accept the good news about the manatee’s improvement. It has taken eight years and two lawsuits to get federal officials to follow up on their own experts’ recommendation to reclassify the manatee. Over that time, the manatee population has grown substantially, while federal officials have been sitting on their hands. We are glad to see that the manatee is doing well, but all taxpayers should demand that the government do much better, going forward, in following the requirements of the Endangered Species Act.”
— Compiled by Chad Gillis