Florida Keys

In the 1980s, Key West was hit especially hard by AIDS. The group AIDS Help was created then to provide hospice care and treatment for people who had the disease.  Over the years, it changed its name to AH-Monroe and expanded its mission to address crises from affordable housing to the impacts of Hurricane Irma.

Monroe County is waiting for $90 million of federal money promised to help rebuild and repair damage after Hurricane Irma and help better protect the Keys from future storms. 

Hurricane Irma cost Florida's fishing industries almost $200 million, according to a damage assessment released by the state and federal governments.

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A $50 million clean-up project to remove debris from Hurricane Irma has begun in the Florida Keys where a crew lifted a sunken motorhome from a canal.

With lots of rain and high humidity over the summer, Big Pine Key has not seen a repeat of last spring's wildfire that consumed dozens of acres. And the state forest service is trying to keep it that way.

The fire last April consumed dozens of acres and destroyed one structure. It was fueled by the dead vegetation left behind by Hurricane Irma, which crossed the Lower Keys as a Category 4 hurricane in September of 2017.

Monroe County already had one of the highest suicide rates in the state of Florida.

Then came Hurricane Irma. And although most of the debris has been removed from land - and lots of repairs are underway — the storm continues to impact the Keys, almost a year later.

Every few weeks, Fred and Melissa Bach host a neighborhood barbecue at their home in the Avenues, on Big Pine Key. Fred’s watching the grill, a barrel shaped rig with a smoker on the side. There are ribs, chicken, salmon — all sizzling and smelling good.

A neighborhood cookout on a Sunday afternoon is a normal thing in most places. But here, in this neighborhood full of mobile homes and ground level houses, these barbecues are a rare refuge of normalcy.

The Avenues took a direct blow from Hurricane Irma last September.

As the rainy season returns — along with the disease-carrying mosquitoes that reproduce in standing water — the public is getting another chance to comment on one proposed method for fighting mosquitoes.

Hurricane Irma uprooted homes and lives in the Florida Keys when it tore through the state last September. The storm also wreaked less visible havoc in many of Florida's low-income communities, where people without cars or living paycheck-to-paycheck struggled to buy food and supplies, and experienced extended power outages.

Sofas, refrigerators, pipes and lobster traps all wound up littering the Keys reef and backcountry flats after Hurricane Irma blew through in September.

Now the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary wants to deploy volunteer divers to remove the debris.

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County officials in the Florida Keys are looking to get federal money to reimburse them for expenses related to Hurricane Irma. Monroe County officials traveled to Washington DC last week to meet with FEMA officials.

The county has submitted about $16 million in expenses for reimbursement.

So far, FEMA has approved about $3.9 million. Now the county is waiting for the state's Department of Emergency Management to sign off.

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The superintendent of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary says that after efforts to help the coral reef recover from Hurricane Irma, challenges loom for the marine ecosystem.

In a lot of ways life has returned to normal in most of the Florida Keys. But one major institution – a hospital – is still operating out of temporary quarters after Hurricane Irma. 

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Climate change is forcing people in the Florida Keys to spend millions of dollars to raise some of their roads as sea levels rise.

An aging reverse-osmosis plant proved its worth in the wake of Hurricane Irma, says the Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority’s chief executive.

Survey teams this week completed an assessment of the condition of the Keys reef tract, from Biscayne Bay to Key West.

"It's very much like what's observable on land," said Sarah Fangman, superintendent of the 2,900-square-nautical-mile Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. "In some places, the impacts are pretty dramatic and visible and in other places they are much less. So we're finding the same is true underwater."

Even in the same location, the hurricane's impacts differ.

The company that wants to hold the first U.S. trial of genetically modified mosquitoes in the Florida Keys and Keys residents who oppose the trial don't agree on much.

But representatives from both sides said Thursday they are happy with the recent announcement that federal oversight of the proposed trial will be moved from the Food and Drug Administration to the Environmental Protection Agency.

"We think it's a good thing," said Derric Nimmo, principal scientist at Oxitec, the company that has developed a genetically modified Aedes aegypti mosquito.

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.

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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.

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