Florida Keys

Protest planned at bug board over genetically modified mosquitoes

Jason Garcia, a field inspector with the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District, tests a sprayer that could be used in the future to spray pesticides to control mosquitoes in Key West. Millions of genetically modified mosquitoes could be released.
Jason Garcia, a field inspector with the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District, tests a sprayer that could be used in the future to spray pesticides to control mosquitoes in Key West. Millions of genetically modified mosquitoes could be released. AP File/2012

A Keys woman says a protest Tuesday at the Florida Keys Mosquito Control Board will target the release of genetically modified mosquitoes.

“We will be outside with signs protesting peacefully. I think this will be the opportunity for moms, teachers, nurses to have a voice. I just wanted to give people a little push to do it,” said Mara Daly, who works at a Key Largo salon. “It’s to let them know there are concerns from people they have not heard from. Maybe the fat lady has already sung, I don’t know.

The meeting starts at 3 p.m. at the board’s building, 503 107th St. in Marathon. Agenda items include an update on the Zika virus and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Aug. 5 approval to allow a test release of GM Aedes aegypti mosquitoes in the Lower Keys neighborhood of Key Haven. Aedes aegypti spread Zika, which can cause birth defects in the children of pregnant women, and whose symptoms include fever and pain in the joints, bones and muscles.

British insect-control firm Oxitec, which would do the release if given approval by the Mosquito Control Board, wants to test release the bugs. The company says the GM mosquitoes’ offspring die almost immediately. The thinking is that will reduce the Keys population of the Aedes aegypti mosquito.

Monroe County health officials on Tuesday confirmed a case of travel-related Zika, a woman who recently returned from a trip outside the country. It’s the first confirmed case of the virus in the Keys. Travel-related means she was bitten by an infected mosquito on her trip. That’s different than locally transmitted.

Statewide, there were at least 369 confirmed Zika cases as of Friday.

“I picked the brains of a lot of people in the Upper Keys,” Daly said. “A lot of people didn’t know this [proposed release] was a trial. People either don’t read or they skim. After the FDA had its finding of no significant impact, it became real.”

“We need to help educate the public about the very real, scientifically based problems with this genetically modified mosquito release,” she said.

She said she has spread word of her protest through Facebook, talking to her salon clients and just in general conversations during her day. She said someone donated use of a bus to carry the protesters to Marathon if needed.

“We did have a bus donated but I don’t think we need it yet. I would like to fill it,” she said, adding that anyone who wants to picket outside the meeting just needs to show up, with a sign the better.

Keys residents will vote in a nonbinding referendum Nov. 8 on whether the test release should take place. There are actually two separate ballot questions, one for Key Haven residents only and one for all Monroe County voters.

Also at Tuesday’s Mosquito Control Board meeting, the board will vote to appoint district Operations Director Andrea Leal interim director and discuss the process of hiring a new director. Director Michael Doyle, on the job since 2011, is leaving at the end of the month to take a job in North Carolina.

It will also discuss whether Oxitec can use its GM mosquito-breeding lab at the Mosquito Control District’s Marathon office for “out-of-Keys projects.”

Zika workshops

The Monroe County Extension Service is conducting three one-hour workshops about Zika for Keys residents who work outside. They will focus on eliminating mosquito habitats, protective clothing and effective repellents.

Two sessions, one at 11 a.m. and one at 1 p.m., are planned for Wednesday at the Murray E. Nelson Government and Cultural Center, mile marker 102 bayside in Key Largo; 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. Thursday at the Florida Keys Electric Cooperative, 3421 Overseas Highway in Marathon; and 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. Aug. 19 at the Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center at the Truman Waterfront, at the end of Southard Street in Key West.

Larry Kahn: 305-440-3218

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