Wildlife drinking Water Availability Update 2/1/2020
Having been several months now into the official “dry season”, we thought it opportune to provide everyone with a short update on the availability of natural drinking water for animals in the Key deer range:
With very important exceptions on No Name Key, the Long Beach Peninsula and Big Munson Island discussed in detail below, wildlife drinking water availability continues to be good into February, 2020. Our sampling sites throughout Big Pine show most of the reliable ones continue to have salinities mostly below 6 ppt, which would even sustain humans in an emergency. Upper Sugarloaf and Middle Torch also continue to have multiple acceptable water sources. Ramrod, whose fresh water sources are (based on our last year’s data) much more precarious, has lost two of the three sources we monitor, but the largest one is holding well so far. It will no doubt benefit from the rains the Keys received today.
No Name Key has, as do several other keys, two types of natural drinking water sources: 1) depressions filled with rain water and 2) solution holes connected to an underground fresh water lens. As of 1/24/2020 all 4 solution holes we monitor had drinkable water, although several were low and extremely muddy. Solution holes/ponds on NNK are located in a relatively small area of the island. The rest of the island has widely distributed rain-filled depressions, however, all of those have had salinities in the sea-water range or worse since April, 2019 when our monitoring project officially began, with a data collection permit from the USFWS (the depressions held drinkable water, as per our earlier measurements before Irma). So the locations of available water sources for wildlife on NNK now exclude most of the island, as was also the case last year. To make things worse for the wildlife, at least 3 of the 4 solution hole sites we monitor now contain resident alligators. Two of them are small (likely grabbing rats, rabbits, birds and racoons) but one is quite large and is likely to take down deer fawns a few months from now. The same situation existed with an even bigger gator (in the same pond) last year. The whereabouts of that 6’ specimen have been unknown to us since the fall of 2019.
As we said, much of No Name’s area where rain-filled depressions scattered throughout the island interior provided wildlife with drinkable water no longer exist after Irma. The storm’s salt water surge inundated the ponds and surrounding soil and, more than 2 years after the hurricane, that salt remains concentrated in those ponds. We are finding the same situation in ponds on the Long Beach Peninsula: the large hardwood hammock area across from the Fishing Lodge extending toward BPK along US-1 has several large ponds that used to be a heaven for wildlife before the storm. Although the vegetation has largely recovered, the area continues to be nearly void of wildlife, particularly deer and birds. The same situation continues to exist on the Boy Scout-owned Big Munson Island, where all the rain-water ponds have very high salinities since the storm. For the past 2 years, the only long-term drinking water source on Big Munson has been a very small (@ 15 inches in diameter) solution hole. Based on trail-camera photos provided to SOKD by the Scouts, and our own field observations, there are a maximum of 3 or 4 Key deer on Big Munson presently – a considerable drop from our pre-Irma observations of around 10-14.
The loss of drinking water availability on No Name, Long Beach and Big Munson effectively translates to loss of available habitat for the Key deer. While it may not be permanent, no one can predict how many years it may take to remedy the situation. In SOKD’s eyes, these observations are important in the debate about delisting the Key deer from “Endangered” status – continued loss of habitat is one official consideration to keep a species on the endangered list. SOKD intends to make our findings known to influence the final decision.