Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, October 4, 2017

Contact:  Elise Bennett, (727) 755-6950,

Trump Administration Denies Florida Keys Mole Skink Endangered Species Act Protection

Rare Lizard Threatened by Climate-induced Sea-level Rise

MIAMI— In response to a petition from the Center for Biological Diversity, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service denied Endangered Species Act protection to the Florida Keys mole skink, along with 24 other highly imperiled species.

The colorful Keys lizard stands to lose all its remaining coastal habitat to sea-level rise by the end of the century.

“The Trump administration’s outrageous decision not to protect these colorful little lizards reflects a reckless denial of climate science,” said Elise Bennett, a Center attorney who works to protect imperiled reptiles and amphibians. “Rising seas and stronger storms fueled by global warming put this coastal lizard at grave risk of extinction. With the Keys still cleaning up from Hurricane Irma’s devastation and no solution in sight for climate change, this animal’s future is not a pretty picture.”

Florida Keys mole skinks can be found in the lower keys in Monroe County, Fla., and are known from the Dry Tortugas. They live along the shoreline around 20 to 31 inches above sea-level in sandy areas where they burrow into the soil and use driftwood, debris and tidal wrack as cover. Although population size for the Florida Keys mole skink is unknown, they have been in steady decline, with one estimate concluding there are between six and 20 populations left.

Because they live on shorelines, Florida Keys moles skinks are imminently threatened by rising seas, which are projected to continue to rise 14 to 34 inches by 2060, and 31 to 81 inches by 2100. The decision to deny protections to the skink only looked at a 30- to 40-year timeframe, finding the species will lose at least half its range to sea-level rise during that time. The decision ignored available projections that reflect 100 percent habitat loss through the end of this century.

Due to the small number of remaining populations and their vulnerable island locale, these skinks are also at risk of sudden population crashes from extreme weather events fueled by climate change. In September storm surge from Hurricane Irma, one of the strongest storms ever seen in the Atlantic Ocean, inundated the Florida Keys.

Meanwhile Tropical Storm Nate is developing in the western Caribbean, with predictions it will become a hurricane by the time it reaches the Gulf of Mexico.

“The Trump administration can’t turn a blind eye to climate change or the Florida Keys mole skink,” said Bennett. “We’ll review this risky decision and fight for the Endangered Species Act protections this beautiful lizard needs to survive.”

In addition to the skink, the administration denied protection for the Pacific walrus, Bicknell’s thrush, Kirtland’s snake, northern Rockies population of fisher, 14 Nevada springsnails, Big Blue Springs Cave crayfish, two populations of black-backed woodpecker, eastern boreal toad, Great Sand Dunes tiger beetle, Barbour’s map turtle and San Felipe gambusia. 

Based on the Fish and Wildlife Service's workplan and legal victories by the Center, the Trump administration was supposed to have made protection decisions for 62 species by the end of the fiscal year, Sept. 30. So far the administration has denied protection to 29 species, protected six and delayed decisions for six more. The Center is awaiting decisions on an additional 27 species.  

In 2010 the Center petitioned to list 404 species of aquatic, riparian and wetland species from the southeastern United States, including the Florida Keys mole skink, as endangered or threatened. In 2015 the Fish and Wildlife Service issued a positive 90-day finding, concluding that the species might warrant the Endangered Species Act’s protections.

Read more about the Center’s campaigns to address sea-level rise and the growing amphibian and reptile extinction crisis.

Florida Keys mole skink

Florida Keys mole skink photo courtesy USFWS. This image is available for media use.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.5 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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