While visiting Big Pine Key last month I was introduced to a Florida native plant that is nearing extinction. The Florida Semaphore Cactus is a prickly pear cactus that is only found in the Florida Keys. The cacti were being cared for at the home of a Florida Fish and Wildlife officer who received them from a local botanical garden. His intentions were to find a suitable area to repopulate the cactus. The officer explained that we were “looking at two-thirds of the world’s population of Florida Semaphore cactus”. While the plants were only in his possession for just a few days, he planned to have them transplanted within the coming week.
Hard to believe at first, but after some quick research his claims of the disappearance of this plant are most certainly true. Residential and commercial development throughout the Lower Keys appears to be the largest threat of the semaphore cactus. However the introduction of the exotic cactus moth has greatly impacted the population as well as its larvae feeds on the cactus. Sea level rise also appears to be encroaching upon the habitat of the cactus.
With the FWC officer transplanting these plants in an undisclosed and undeveloped area in Big Pine Key, he very well may be saving this species indigenous to the Keys.
With only about one-sixth of the original coral cover left, most Caribbean coral reefs may disappear in the next 20 years, primarily due to the loss of grazers in the region, according to the latest report by the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network (GCRMN), the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).
The report, Status and Trends of Caribbean Coral Reefs: 1970-2012, is the most detailed and comprehensive study of its kind published to date – the result of the work of 90 experts over the course of three years. It contains the analysis of more than 35,000 surveys conducted at 90 Caribbean locations since 1970, including studies of corals, seaweeds, grazing sea urchins and fish.
The results show that the Caribbean corals have declined by more than 50% since the 1970s. But according to the authors, restoring parrotfish populations and improving other management strategies, such as protection from overfishing and excessive coastal pollution, could help the reefs recover and make them more resilient to future climate change impacts.
“The rate at which the Caribbean corals have been declining is truly alarming,” says Carl Gustaf Lundin, Director of IUCN’s Global Marine and Polar Programme. “But this study brings some very encouraging news: the fate of Caribbean corals is not beyond our control and there are some very concrete steps that we can take to help them recover.”