What’s eating Florida?

For a long time I’ve been arguing that our official state motto ought to be: Florida: Whatever you don’t eat will eat you.”

Course I was just talking about Gators, mosquitos and no-see-ums (oh my). But nature has a more lethal sense of humor than any mere mortal.

So now we’re talking about flesh eating bacteria. And it’s no laughing matter.

Of late there have been a handful of cases on southwest Florida beaches. A 77-year old woman died of it. A couple of other cases were successfully treated. Amy Barnes, 45, survived thanks to four weeks of antibiotics. “I want people to be aware of this stuff because it’s real and it will kill you,” she told reporters. “It will eat you up before you even get a chance.”

To be sure these cases are extremely rare. So rare that state health officials don’t even bother to keep track of them. (Rather like the Mayor of Amity, in “Jaws,” didn’t want to make too much of shark bites for fear of scaring off the tourists.)

But now the secret’s out thanks to press coverage. And you have to wonder how it will affect attendance at Florida’s beaches during this long, hot, fetid summer. 

And it’s not only the odd case of Necrotizing fasciitis that ought to worry virtually anyone who goes to the beach or makes a living catering to sun worshipers. Between red tides, blue green algae and beach closures due to high bacteria content (poop in the water), Florida has been getting so much bad press of late that tourism officials in California have to be smiling. 

Algae Blooms. Iguanas heading north. That’s climate change.” That Tampa Bay Times editorial neatly summarizes the sodden mess we are all making of our once pristine peninsular paradise. “Whether it’s leaky septic tanks, runoff from our lawns or too much farm waste flowing into waterways, we’ve created conditions ripe for algae to take hold. And don’t forget that a 2014 Climate Assessment Report predicted more blooms in Florida as the globe warms.”

Oh, and about those big exotic lizards that are making themselves to home in South Florida? The iguanas are slowly migrating north, and they’ve gotten so bothersome that the state wants Floridians to start killing them off. 

“Homeowners do not need a permit to kill iguanas on their own property, and the FWC encourages homeowners to kill green iguanas on their own property whenever possible,” says a Fish and Wildlife Commission press release. 

In a heavily armed state like ours, declaring open season on these south of the border exotics should make for some interesting misadventures. I can see the headlines now: “Florida man nails six iguanas with assault rifle in crowded mall parking lot”.

But I digress. 

The point is that we are slowly turning our Florida Eden into a polluted, overcrowded, dangerous and miserable hellhole. In this brave new world, a python can strangle a baby in its crib. Boa constrictors are eating the gators in the Glades. Florida mosquitos can make you scratch and itch, but they can also pass on chikungunya fever, dengue fever, malaria, yellow fever, and Rift Valley fever.

And don’t even get me started on the ever-growing dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico.

Just another day in paradise. 

The blue-green algae mess has gotten so bad that even our “anything for business” politicians have been forced to take notice. The Legislature threw some money at clean-up this session, but did nothing to stop pollution at its source. That would have been bad for “bidness,” not to mention their campaign contributions. Meanwhile, Gov. Ron DeSantis has created a Blue Green Algae Task Force, so he’ll be kicking that can down the road for a while. 

But while we’re waiting, DeSantis and lawmakers have launched a new era of super highway construction, are continuing to gut Florida’s growth management laws and have otherwise done all they can to ensure that Florida’s despoliation will continue apace.

I hate to sound cynical about all this, but the fact is that we could see this coming for a long time. For at least the past two decades politicians have been sacrificing our natural environment so as to accommodate big developers, big ag, big sugar and other generous special interest campaign donors. And we Florida voters have done nothing but reward them with reelection and advancement to higher office (hello Sen. Rick Scott).

No, the politicians haven’t sold us out. We did it to ourselves by not throwing the rascals out. And if there is anything like a  “green wave” constituency out there to set things right, it’s moving slower than an iguana in a Florida cold snap. 

So what’s eating you Florida? The list is long and growing, but the short answer is all too painfully obvious.

We are.


  1. Yet 1000 people a day move TO Florida. I came 20 years ago and I love it. My article would be about beautiful sunsets and afternoons around the pool in December. Its all about your point of view. I guess I’m not bitter.

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