Skip to main content

ECOWATCH: Hurricane season is alive and deadly

September 14, 2023
By Delores Savas


‘’We are playing Russian roulette with features of the planet’s atmosphere that                                              will profoundly impact generations to come. How long are we willing to gamble?”                                         – David Suzuki, Canadian academic and  environmental activist                                                                                                 

There are 77 days left of hurricane season that Floridians will be facing, and the predictions do not seem to be to encouraging. There will be 77 days, or possibly more, of Floridians dodging storms. As it is now, even the weather broadcasters are not sure where a hurricane iwill make its destructive appearance. The probability of a major hurricane landfall in the U.S. is now estimated to be above average. 

As is the case with all hurricane seasons, coastal residents are reminded that it only takes one hurricane landfall to make it an active season. All Atlantic and Gulf Coast areas are subject to hurricanes and tropical storms. Earth just had its hottest summer in recorded history, according to data released by the World Meteorologal Organization.                                              

 The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) agreed that 2022 was one of the warmest years on record. NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said the global temperature is “pretty alarming … What we’re seeing is our warming climate warning all of us. Forest fires are intensifying. Hurricanes are getting stronger. Sea levels are rising. Extreme weather patterns threaten our wellbeing across the planet.”                                       

 The thousands of new residents who have flocked to Florida may learn that “there is a ‘price to pay for magic,” as Mr. Gold said in the series, “Once Upon a Time.” Blue skies, sunny weather and sandy beaches are only a part of the seasonal weather that makes up Florida’s ecosystem. The potential for hurricanes is the flip side of the coin, maybe the price we pay for the magic that was once Florida. 

  In the face of all these predictions and warnings on possible hurricanes, one of the main cornerstones of protecting Florida’s beaches from erosion is its wetlands. And yet, like a scene from the Mad Hatter’s tea party, the Environmental Protection Agency, (EPA) removed federal protection from most of the country’s wetlands to comply with the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Sackett v. EPA. The Biden administration lifted the protections from pollution for millions of acres of wetlands three months after the Supreme Court found that the EPA lacked the authority to regulate them.

  The origins of the clean water law date back to 1948. The protection for wetlands was added as part of state amendments in 1977, limiting the discharge of pollution into navigable waters. 

According to Patrice Simms, vice president of litigation at Earth Justice, a nonprofit, public interest organization based in the U.S., “The Supreme Court’s right-wing supermajority’s disastrous ruling in Sackett v. EPA reduced EPA’s ability to protect our wetlands and waters from destruction and contamination. The new rules from EPA adjust its existing regulations to comply with Sackett and reflect our dangerous new reality, where mining companies, big agriculture, fossil fuel developers and other polluting industries can bulldoze and fill wetlands indiscriminately, harming our public health and ecosystems. The politically motivated decision by the Supreme Court ignores science and flies in the face of what almost everyone knows:  We all need clean water.”

 According to Earth Justice, the U.S. has at least 290 million acres of wetlands which have now lost protection. The downstream impacts of this staggering loss of protections are incalculable. Waterways are vast and interconnected, such that even states with protective laws can experience the impacts of water pollution and wetland loss. The Court’s decision to deregulate wetlands will hurt everyone living in the United States.”

  This new ruling does not affect Florida’s major wetlands, but wetlands that are a half-acre or smaller are not protected, and homeowners will have an open season on destroying them without any consequences.

 A recent article in the Tampa Bay Times, under the headline “Misguided court decision hurts Florida and its wetlands,” states: “For Floridians, the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling has ominous implications. As our state experiences unprecedented growth, new citizens and developers may not even be aware that their drinking water lies benieth their feet.”

  How long before Florida’s major wetlands will be plundered is anyone’s guess. The ease with which wetlands lost their protection is alarming. It shows that big business, developers and politicians have the upper hand at this time. 

Florida has already lost some 9.3 million acres or wetlands. This means that habitats for thousands of species of aquatic and terrestrial plants and animals are gone. Wetlands are also valuable for flood protection, water quality improvement and shoreline erosion control. 

Mangroves are a vital part of wetlands, and they serve as a barrier against erosion and loss of water quality, especially during hurricane season. Yet over the past 100 years, mangrove forests have been cleared at an alarming rate. Tampa Bay lost nearly 50 percent of its mangroves, while the mangroves of Charlotte Harbor estuary have disappeared by nearly 60 percent.

Florida as it once was is disappearing. Out-of-control development, eroding shore- lines and loss of protection of wetlands will take their toll along with the increase in dangerous hurricanes. Thus will the deadly game of Russian roulette continue during our active hurricane season.