In the war with invasive species, Florida is winning some skirmishes but far from vanquishing its formidable enemies.
On Wednesday, researchers and government agencies gathered in Davie for an annual summit to talk about the latest findings on exotic threats to Florida, from slimy New Guinea flatworms that threaten native snails to the poster snake for invasive species, the Burmese python.
They got good news and bad.
While some efforts are making progress — vast swaths of the Everglades have been cleared of invasive melaleuca and Australian pines have been cleared from the marsh’s edges — maintaining that progress takes constant work.
“The important point is it’s still out there on the landscape just waiting for us to turn our backs on it,” said LeRoy Rodgers, a senior scientist with the South Florida Water Management District.
State efforts to wipe out African rock pythons in South Miami-Dade County appear to be working, but Argentine tegus have spread beyond the rock pits and Homestead trailer park where they were originally spotted less than a decade ago.
The two-day meeting that continues Thursday is intended to bring together various agencies and researchers wrestling with invasive species to better coordinate work. Many projects are already joint efforts. But getting support for species that don’t make headlines can be a struggle.
“You’re chronically under-resourced,” said Shannon Estenoz, director of Everglades Restoration for the U.S. Department of Interior. “The effort is almost taken for granted.”
Among the latest findings presented:
▪ Burmese pythons are moving north and hatching their young earlier in the year. A dead female with eggs was found on Alligator Alley, the farthest north documented for a breeding female, said Florida Fish and Freshwater Fish Commission biologist Jenny Ketterlin Eckles. In southwest Florida, early research shows pythons using armadillo and tortoise burrows as love shacks, mating and sheltering in the holes. Researchers found one burrow with a gopher tortoise — likely traumatized — trapped beneath the mating snakes.
▪ Nile monitor lizards have spread from Palm Beach County on Florida’s East Coast. On May 6, state workers captured one in Southwest Ranches, but a day later another sighting in the same neighborhood was reported.
▪ Lionfish have infested waters well beyond Florida and now pose a threat to the entire Southeast. But efforts to clear reefs with spearfishing rodeos show success, so the state has launched an adopt-a-reef program.
▪ Brazilian pepper continues to choke out native plants and Old World climbing fern has spread from Palm Beach County south to Cape Sable, Rodgers said. In the good news column: After nearly a decade battling cattails strangling wetlands and damaging habitat for wading birds, the water management district might have finally found the right combination of herbicides and fire treatment to control the plants.
▪ Not all mangroves are good. Several invasive species have escaped the Kampong in Coral Gables and spread north.
Throughout the day, scientists spoke again and again of the need for early action to battle species and efforts to improve public involvement, from the IveGot1 app to enticing lobster hunters to bag lionfish.
“No question there’s been tremendous progress … but I wouldn’t be patting ourselves on the backs too much,” said University of Florida wildlife biologist Frank Mazzotti. “This is not like Little League where if we try our best and we don’t win, it’s OK. If we try our best and we don’t win, the implications are very serious.”