Florida Keys

Twenty years ago, only a few areas in the Keys had central sewer systems.

The rest of the island chain was using a combination of shallow injection wells, septic tanks — and even some cesspits, basically holes in the ground that provided no treatment at all.

Since the Keys consists of fossilized coral, that meant polluted water could easily move to canals and shorelines.

To improve water quality near shore, the Florida Keys has spent hundreds of millions over the last 20 years upgrading wastewater treatment systems and improving how stormwater is handled.

Self-medicating stations meant to protect the endangered Key deer from screwworm have already been removed and federal wildlife managers plan to stop medicating entirely on April 10 — assuming no new cases of the deadly parasite are found.

Screwworm was first confirmed in the Keys Sept. 30 and killed 135 Key deer, an endangered species that lives nowhere else in the world. Before the outbreak, the population was estimated at 800 to 1,000 animals.

Almost six months after the New World screwworm outbreak was identified in the Florida Keys, the state Department of Agriculture announced the lifting the animal quarantine in Monroe County. The checkpoint in Key Largo for animals leaving the Keys closed as of 7 p.m. Saturday.

benbill / Flickr

Florida Keys officials have approved a framework for county roads that need to be adapted to rising sea levels.

For the first time in 30 years, the invasive New World Screwworm has been reported in the Florida Keys. The bug and its flesh-eating larvae have been reported on the mainland.

Since September, 15 cases of the screwworm have been documented in endangered Key Deer, pigs, raccoons, cats, and dogs. In early January, the first case of the fly—and the flesh-eating larvae it produces when its eggs are hatched inside an animal—was reported in Homestead. That brings the screwworm onto the Florida mainland and just miles from Miami.

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Researchers say a widespread disease outbreak continues to afflict corals off the Upper Florida Keys.

Florida Keys Community College established a mariculture program six years ago, after the movie "Finding Nemo" created a craze for clownfish like the title character.

But it wasn't until Mick Walsh arrived three years ago to head up the college's marine environmental technology department that the program took off.

"When I got here, we had eight pairs of parent fish and that was it," Walsh said. "And now we have eight pairs of parent fish and hundreds, hundreds of baby clownfish and many more that have also been adopted out to community members and students."

Most voters in the Florida Keys said in a Nov. 8 referendum that they were in favor of releasing genetically modified mosquitoes in the Keys.

Nancy Klingener

People in the Keys have been living alongside Key deer for a long time. And for ages, wildlife officials have implored people: Don't feed the deer.

Since a screwworm infestation was identified in the Lower Keys, more than 10 million sterile screwworm flies have been released on eight islands.

Sterile flies are the proven technology to eradicate screwworms. The flies are zapped with gamma radiation, making them sterile. Then those sterile flies are released to breed with wild flies. That stops reproduction, preventing more fly larvae.

California Department of Food and Agriculture

Officials say they've found no evidence of screwworm in hundreds of pets examined for signs of the parasite killing endangered deer in the Florida Keys.

Alexandre Carvalho (Oxitec)

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved a field trial to release genetically modified mosquitoes in the Florida Keys.

Mosquito control officials in the Florida Keys are expecting an expensive fight against the mosquitoes that carry the Zika and dengue viruses.

A field trial releasing genetically modified mosquitoes in the Florida Keys would not harm humans or the environment, according to documents released Friday by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Things To Know About GMO Mosquito Test Proposed In Florida

Mar 15, 2016
Andre Penner, File / AP Photo

The spread of the Zika virus in Latin America is giving a boost to a British biotech firm's proposal to deploy a genetically modified mosquito to try to stop transmission of the disease.

  In July 2014, Ellen Engelson's leg broke spontaneously, weakened from radiation treatments years before.

She lives in Key West,  so she went to the emergency room at the only hospital within 50 miles. But because her leg needed specialized care, she had to get to a hospital on the mainland.

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Getting to a trauma center quickly can be critical, and in the Florida Keys, there are no trauma centers.

That leaves you the option of being airlifted out.   And that can cost you nothing -- or tens of thousands of dollars. 

But Monroe County is trying to make sure patients have the chance to choose that first financial option. 

Reporter Nancy Klingener is part of WLRN in South Florida. Health News Florida receives support from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

If you're heading down to Florida for spring break, consider packing bug spray and long-sleeve shirts.

After a 60-year hiatus, the mosquito-borne illness dengue fever officially re-established itself there.

The Florida Keys could have a new way to fight dengue fever if the FDA approves a request to release mosquitoes that have been genetically modified.