It’s a little known fact that Florida actually has a cave system, complete with stalactites and stalagmites – and even resident bats. For a state known for its shallow underground water system that prevents most people from even having basements, air-filled caves are an anomaly. You can find Florida’s caves at Florida Caverns State Park in Marianna, Florida, which is in the northwestern part of the state (between Tallahassee and Panama City).
Bats are often associated with caves (and also with Halloween), and the flying mammals were in the spotlight this week during National Bat Week.
Bats deserve their own week and all the attention they can get. For one thing, bats are frequently misunderstood and feared; there’s the whole vampire mythos, not to mention their prominence in Halloween décor.
Kid-friendly books like Stellaluna have helped us understand that not all bats ‘vant to suck your blood’! Stellaluna is a fruit bat and therefore a pollinator. Just like bees, bats like Stellaluna help to disperse seeds and pollinate hundreds of types of fruit trees, like mangos and bananas. Then there are the swarms of bats that frequently appear in my backyard at dusk to dive-bomb the mosquitos gathering there. Bats in the U.S. eat tons of insects, which helps decrease the use of pesticides and control some insect-borne diseases.
Recently I had the good fortune to visit Linville Caverns in North Carolina. Although this cave system differs from our rare Florida ones, one thing they have in common is a concern for the creatures that shelter there. At caverns around the country, you’ll hear about the fungal disease that is threatening bat populations across the U.S. White-nose Syndrome has reportedly killed as many as 6 million bats in North America, and is putting many species at risk for extinction. If you do visit a cave system, you’ll likely be asked to wipe your feet with a bleach/water solution upon exiting the cave, like we did at Linville Caverns. This is a precaution to help stop the spread of White-nose Syndrome.
Even celebrities are coming to the aid of bats. Check out this video hosted by Zack Snyder, the director for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and two of the film’s actors: Ben Affleck and Amy Adams.
Find out more about bats:
Images: Christine Janesko
Of course it’s bad news that a record number of Florida panthers – 17 – have been killed this year, mainly hit by cars. But wildlife experts and the media are reporting that there is a positive side to this news, and that is simply that the population of panthers is growing. For an animal that people believed would go extinct and is certainly still on the brink of extinction, an increase in sightings actually points to progress. The panther population had dwindled to about 30 panthers statewide two decades ago and now has reportedly grown to between 100 and 160. It’s all due to genetic restoration (breeding Florida panthers with their cougar relatives in Texas) and the conservation efforts of biologists, state organizations, and concerned citizens. Check out this WFTX-TV story on the Florida panther – with a reminder for people in the Collier County panther-crossing areas to observe posted speed limits to protect Florida’s most endangered state symbol.
In October, Surfrider and Teva are sponsoring Rise Above Plastics Month, with scary facts about plastic and our oceans – and a challenge to everyone to “reduce your plastic footprint.”
Here are a few spooky thoughts from the Surfrider Foundation:
- Plastics are the most common type of marine litter worldwide, accounting for 90 percent of floating debris.
- Plastics do not biodegrade, but instead break down into small particles that persist in the ocean, absorb toxins, and enter our food chain through fish, sea birds, and other marine life.
- In certain places of the ocean, the amount of suspended plastic particles actually outnumbers ambient plankton.
Click here to read Surfrider’s 10 ideas for reducing plastic in your life: http://www.rapmonth.org/10-ways/
One Foot at a Time Plastic-Art Contest
You can also have some fun creating ‘found art’ from a Surfrider beach cleanup event or your own plastic cleanup mission, and enter to win a Timbertek surfboard, Teva sandals, and a Surfrider Foundation reusable water bottle. The last day to enter is Oct. 30! Read about the contest here: http://www.rapmonth.org/ofaat/
Photo credits: Surfrider Foundation
On Saturday, Sept. 28, thousands of people joined hands along seven of Florida’s East Coast causeways for National Estuaries Day. They were participating in Hands Across the Lagoon, an event meant to create awareness about the declining health of the Indian River Lagoon and its effect on marine life.
Participants stood along bridges in New Smyrna Beach, Titusville, Melbourne, Vero Beach, Fort Pierce, and Stuart. Kayakers in Merritt Island also joined in with their own Kayaks Across the Lagoon event.
Hands Across the Lagoon began in 1989. However, scientists say bringing attention to the nitrogen and phosphorous pollution in the Indian River Lagoon is of pressing importance this year in light of the recent deaths of 110 manatees, 69 dolphins, and as many as 300 brown pelicans, according to an article from Florida Today.
Photo credit: Indian River Lagoon News and Events Facebook Page
September is Debris Month of Action, a global movement sponsored by Project AWARE, which rallies divers to participate in underwater cleanup projects. It’s part of the organization’s year-round Dive Against Debris initiative.
The idea is to get scuba divers around the world to collectively clean problem areas in their locales, collect data and images, and report on what they find. These findings can be used to identify at-risk ecosystems and possibly affect policy changes.
According to Project AWARE, more than 6 million tons of marine litter is estimated to enter the ocean each year. Trash not only injures and kills many marine animals and plants each year, it also destroys habitats and threatens our health and economy, the organization points out.
In their online FAQs, Project AWARE describes their mission this way: “Marine debris – or trash in our ocean – has risen to the top of the marine policy agenda. Scientists, resource managers and governments increasingly recognize it as one of the most serious ocean issues of our time… Divers are qualified to describe the reality of these issues underwater, take actions beyond land, and foster a sense of urgency for global ocean protection.”
Here in Florida, there are several cleanup projects going on this month. Divers can join organized projects or create one of their own. Here’s a map of Dive Against Debris cleanup activities happening around the world: http://www.projectaware.org/action-zone/map
Here’s a great video that explains the program:
Photo credits: Project AWARE Foundation
When you think of the National Park Service, Florida is probably not the first state that comes to mind. California, Colorado, and Arizona are more synonymous with National Parks. Yet Florida has 11 National Park sites.
National Parks are great places to learn about a state’s geology, ecology and history.
We may not have Arches or Yosemite, and you’re not going to see a buffalo or ride a donkey down a ravine. However, we have some beautiful and interesting spots all our own – places where you can see centuries-old forts, go snorkeling along a reef, learn about our early Native American populations like the Timucuan, or take an airboat ride past alligators and wading birds. Most of these spots are also great places to see natural Florida.
Here is a list of Florida’s 11 National Parks, by region:
Gulf Islands National Seashore
Fort Caroline National Memorial
East Central Florida
Canaveral National Seashore
De Soto National Memorial
Big Cypress National Preserve
Photo credits: U.S. National Park Service