* IMPORTANT NATURAL WATER UPDATE * In view of the Refuge’s complete lack of response to our previous (late January) salinity assessments of post-Irma natural drinking water availability to wildlife in the lower Keys (and the assumed lack of their monitoring – since they “officially” stopped in November 2017), Save Our Key Deer (SOKD) did another partial field sampling survey this weekend. The results support our recent call to provide, if convenient, wildlife (and we mean it indiscriminately – birds, bees, raccoons, lizards and (oh yeah!) Key deer) with available drinking water. Despite the apparent confusion, you do live in the somewhat free USA and you still have the right to put out a bird bath or even a container of fresh water on your private property. No one can fine or arrest you for that. PERIOD.
Please, thoroughly clean your water containers regularly…e.g. daily to minimize the risk of disease transmission!
Now for the justification of SOKD’s stance:
1) Hurricane Irma decimated wildlife in the Lower Keys and they need all the help they can get from us to hold on. Historically, there used to be many more water holes for them to get to … but no more.
2) The 2017-18 “dry season” has been one of the worst in 20+ years (that’s how “averages” are computed)- in December ’17 through February ’18, the lower Keys received only 50% of rain than usual, and in the latest month February received only 22% of average (as per Key West Airport data – nearest reliable source to Key deer habitat region) – so we have gotten only a quarter of rainfall as per the last 20 years in the past month!!
3) With Irma’s saltwater inundation and subsequent drought, vegetation that normally supports wildlife (e.g. butterflies through flowers, Key deer through mangrove leaves) left a deficit in alternate natural water sources.
Now for this weekend’s survey results:
1) Long Beach Road, BPK: No naturally available drinkable water below seawater (salinity 34-36ppt) (supposedly the deer tolerate 15 and other animals 10) exists naturally anywhere on this area including the long stretch of US1 and adjoining USFWS land. Surveyed 1/28/2017 and again 3/4/2018. Same results at Big Munson Island. So none of these raccoons, deer, bees and lizards have had a source of fresh water for months. While this area has been apparently completely abandoned by USFWS and the local Refuges management (despite some of the land being under their jurisdiction), there are fortunately some animals left there – all completely dependent on residents’ providing “artificial” water sources for them.
2) No Name Key: as per SOKD’s water salinity test results today, there are 3 “natural” fresh water sources that could be classified as palatable to Key deer (<15ppt) and only one that we were able to encounter for ppt less than 10…: all these “last stand” puddles are in the limestone sinkhole areas along the hiking path opposite of No Name Drive and one consists of a baby alligator hole maintained by its desperate and feisty creator under a rock ledge, with an opening of about 1 square foot…and an astounding salinity reading of only 9.5ppt. Thirsty raccoons and deer probably get bitten on the nose… There are two other holes in the same area with similarly small gators that are not doing so well: one had salinity readings of 13.3ppt on 1/28/18 and now is up to 17.3 (gator not seen today, if still there or alive) and the other was 11.2 on 1/28/18 and today’s was 16.7ppt (again, gator not sighted). All of these are past the recognized limit of palatability for all wildlife in the Keys. The only realistic source is a sawgrass pond at marginal 13.1ppt, and another nearby depression with 11.3ppt. Both show ample deer activity which, of course, also implies when most of the local population is drinking (and peeing, and pooping) at the same source, disease spread is a very serious risk factor. We assume responsible people on NNK provide additional water for the deer and other wildlife there under these very unusual and stressful post-Irma conditions. But we cannot ignore the multiple comments from residents and tourists alike that basically state…”the Key deer on No Name look like shit”… We also have reports from residents on the other side of the Old Bridge between BPK and NNK that in the past few weeks they have new deer appearing on their land – possible emigrations of “smart” deer from NNK.
3) On the bright side, as part of this weekend’s SOKD water surveys, we were extremely fortunate to be introduced to a young man, a true Conch, who knows of numerous natural water holes on Big Pine Key that you’d never think could exist with all the surrounding development. He showed us several, although he made ample remarks how some are now dry way before they should be seasonally, and one super-hidden one that tested today at a super 9.7 “is the smallest in size he has ever seen”. So while BPK wildlife still has their watering holes, this will continue to be a very stressful year for them…
SOKD will continue to monitor the wildlife drinking water conditions as the dry season progresses. As always, we remain open to collaborative efforts with the Refuge and USFWS, but realize evermore their lack of interest and commitment in preserving our wildlife in the Keys, especially in terms of working with the interested residents and scientists wanting to aid in these endeavors.
Pictured below is a NNK pond that does have palatable water but is almost dried up. Second photo is a very thin “button buck” on NNK with scruffy, dull fur/mange and he looks to have worms – bloated belly.