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Wildlife drinking water availability update: 4/4/2020 (1-year project anniversary)
We are now well into the annual dry season and it’s been 2 months since our last update. We have also reached a full year of bi-monthly monitoring, which now makes our data set unique in that, for the first time it is possible to make direct year-to-year comparisons of natural drinking water availability at specific locations throughout the Key deer range. No other such data set exists!
Unfortunately, the news is not that great, both in terms of changes in the last 2 months and in last April vs. today comparisons. The Rain Gods ignored the Keys for much of the past 2 months while warm, breezy weather prevailed. This has caused a very fast degradation of natural fresh water sources throughout the islands. For example, out of the 12 sources we consistently monitor on BPK, 2 (17%) were dry or too saline at the end of January. That number increased to 8 by today or 67% of sites sampled. While there are, of course, many more natural water holes on BPK, our sample site selection for the project was done very carefully to represent both geographical location spread and geological type (solution holes with access to underlying water lens vs. rain-water catchment depressions) – so it is reasonable to assume the overall proportion of available vs. unavailable water sources is accurately represented. By comparison, this time last year saw only 25% of the sampled sites unavailable.
BPK is actually doing the best of all the deer-inhabited islands. Our latest water sampling on Ramrod Key shows none of our sample sites (N=4) have drinkable water, only 1 out of 6 on Upper Sugarloaf, and only 2 out of 6 on Middle Torch with very low water levels. Comparing those sites to conditions at the same time last year, there has been much greater loss to evaporation. Water level comparisons to last year show we are likely a month or more ahead (i.e. lower) than last year.
Then there is the Long Beach Peninsula and neighboring islands that have had no natural drinking water available for most of the time since Irma – as we have repeatedly reported in the past. All of the deer and other wildlife there are dependent on human-related water sources- be they kiddie-pools or air conditioner drips.
And finally No Name Key: As we also reported last time, NNK has lost all of its rainwater catchment ponds after Irma, since its storm surge forced salt into them that so far has not leached out or been otherwise absorbed. This has effectively eliminated previously available water sources (some of them year-round) in the wildlife-important southern 60% of the island. The only drinking water sources continue to be a limited number of solution holes clustered in one small part of the island. Although 2 have dried out in the past two months, the rest continue to harbor some water at quite low salinity concentrations – same as last year. Their water levels are extremely low, however, considerably lower than last year. Our most recent survey shows that literally every one of these solution holes contains an alligator. Most are relatively small but one is quite large. So in addition to having to drink the last remnants of extremely rank puddle water, wildlife has to deal with that hazard.
The subject of people seasonally providing supplemental drinking water for wildlife has, in recent years, been a controversial one in the Keys – which is rather ironic since not too long ago even the USFWS provided supplemental water, and spent funds to improve and maintain a number of natural water holes on federal lands. Remember that Keys wildlife lost many of the natural water sources to relatively recent development, so their ancestors living here just 30 or 50 years ago did not at all face the same water shortages. While SOKD wants to stay “neutral” on the subject, we do want to emphasize that providing water for wildlife is perfectly legal. If you do it, please make sure you clean the containers or bird baths regularly to prevent possible disease contamination.