The following letter was emailed to Keys Refuge Management, Texas A&M Key Deer researcher and Ecological Services:
As you know, following hurricane Irma’s passage through the Keys it became necessary for both Refuge staff and residents to provide drinkable water to wildlife, since natural freshwater sources were inundated by saltwater through the storm surge. Initially, the Refuge monitored salinity in a few water depressions through the Key deer range and provided regular updates on their status. Based on decreased salinity readings the Refuge officially called off the supplemental watering effort on 10/24/2017 with a press release stating that drinkable water sources in all areas have dropped below 15ppt salinity. The statement also stated that “The Refuge will continue to monitor salinity levels in select wetlands across the Lower Keys during the next month. “… and “This will be my last message on this topic unless we detect conditions have drastically changed.” This implies that the Refuge’s salinity monitoring efforts stopped at the end of November, 2017. Since then the Refuge’s position has been to not provide additional drinking water resources to wildlife, and to implore residents to also not do so, e.g. through Facebook posts on 1/17/2018.
The Keys are presently in the early months of the dry season which is so far proving to be significantly drier than historical average: Big Pine Key has experienced less than 30% of normal rainfall in both November and December, and January is so far also in a major deficit. In the absence of any data updates to assess the wildlife fresh water situation scientifically, our organization – Save Our Key Deer – has taken it upon itself recently to obtain some salinity measurement updates on Big Pine and No Name Keys. Attached, please find graphics showing some alarming results in two areas sampled so far: with a single exception on No Name Key, all water sources tested show salinities well above palatable limits to wildlife. The sink holes and ponds show very distinct and major signs of evaporative losses, hence it is logical the salt content has been rising over the past few months, and will continue to do so with our scarce rainfall. Despite wishes by all of us that Key deer, as one wildlife example, remain as distant as possible from the cohabiting human population, reports from some of our members and direct field observations now show that in some areas the deer (and other wildlife) are presently entirelydependent on anthropogenic water sources. In at least one area, whatever deer survived the hurricane there have recently either perished or relocated closer to human settlements, along with the disappearance of water birds, iguanas and most raccoons, leaving the natural area void.
The salinity measurements were done with a Control Company “Traceable®” Salinity Meter, Model 15-078-202 distributed by Fisher Scientific. It was factory-calibrated on 9/19/2017 and calibration stability was checked in the field during sampling using a 35ppt standard solution.
We are bringing this existing problem situation to your attention before it potentially gets worse, and also because it leads to more confrontation between concerned residents. Since this is a range-wide problem, it is thus of direct concern from a “whole herd health” aspect that the present Refuge administration has been stressing. As always, we offer our collaboration on any level possible to ensure the future well-being of our resident wildlife.
Dr. Jan Svejkovsky