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Lawsuit Launched to Protect Coastal Florida Sparrow and Lizard Threatened by Sea-level Rise
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - February 20 - The Center for Biological Diversity filed a formal notice of intent today to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service over the agency’s failure to protect the MacGillivray’s seaside sparrow and the Florida Keys mole skink under the Endangered Species Act. Both species are severely threatened by sea-level rise: The sparrow depends on marshes that are threatened by rising seas, while the mole skink is found only on Florida’s low-lying keys, at risk of inundation. Driven by climate change, sea-level rise of three feet to six feet in Florida is highly likely within this century.
“Help can’t come too soon for the seaside sparrow, Florida Keys mole skink or many other plants and animals on our vulnerable coasts,” said Jaclyn Lopez, a Center attorney based in Florida. “Sea-level rise threatens all of us — the status of these two species should be a wake-up call to coastal Florida and the rest of the U.S. that we need to cut greenhouse gases now.”
The sparrow once ranged from North Carolina south into Florida’s Volusia County, but has not been spotted south of Duval County in Florida in years. The sparrow is one of four seaside sparrows remaining in Florida; since the dusky seaside sparrow was declared extinct in 1987, the MacGillivray’s represents the southernmost Atlantic subspecies. The mole skink is a tiny, colorful lizard found mainly along the sandy shoreline of Dry Tortugas and the Lower Keys, though it may also occur among other Florida keys. It was once locally common, but its population has declined up to 30 percent, and the lizard is now considered rare. It’s also the southernmost subspecies of its species, precariously dependent on suitable sandy shoreline habitat.
“The sparrow and skink have already seen their habitats lost and fragmented by coastal development. Now, with sea-level rise, even what little remains to them is at high risk,” said Lopez. “Without Endangered Species Act protection, the sparrow and skink will go extinct. And if sea-level rise continues unchecked, Florida as we all know it will also disappear.”
In 2011, a year after the Center petitioned for the species’ protection, the Service determined that the sparrow and mole skink “may warrant” federal protection as endangered or threatened species; yet it has failed to make the required 12-month findings to decide whether protection will be granted.
Both the sparrow and mole skink are extremely vulnerable to sea-level rise, more frequent and powerful storms and storm surge, and coastal squeeze, which occurs when habitat is pinched between rising sea levels and coastal development that prevents landward movement.