Imperiled Coastal Florida Bird, Lizard Threatened by Sea-level Rise Move Closer to Endangered Species Act Protection

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla.— In a settlement with the Center for Biological Diversity, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service committed late Monday to making Endangered Species Act findings on whether protections are warranted for the MacGillivray’s seaside sparrow and the Florida Keys mole skink, in 2018 and 2017 respectively. Both species are threatened by sea levels projected to rise by as much as 3 to 6 feet in Florida by the end of the century.

Florida Keys mole skink

Florida Keys mole skink photo courtesy USFWS. 

“It’s not too late to save these charismatic coastal species,” said Jaclyn Lopez, a Center attorney based in Florida. “But swift action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is needed to stave off the worst impacts of sea-level rise.”

The sparrow once ranged from North Carolina south into Florida’s Volusia County, but has not been spotted south of Duval County, Fla. in years. It 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 colorful, shiny 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.

In 2011, a year after the Center petitioned for their 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.

“The sparrow and skink are vulnerable to coastal squeeze, which occurs when habitat is pinched between rising sea levels and coastal development, preventing landward movement,” said Lopez. “Protecting these species under the Act will help ensure that their habitat needs are considered as human populations respond to sea-level rise.”

The Southeast supports more kinds of freshwater animals than anywhere else in the world, but the region has already lost more than 50 freshwater species to extinction in recent times. The Center is working to save more than 400 at-risk aquatic species in the Southeast.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 625,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.