Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, September 26, 2022


Elise Bennett, (727) 755-6950,

Rare Florida Keys Lizard Proposed for Endangered Species Protection

Threatened by Climate Crisis, Florida Keys Mole Skink Will Receive Hard-Fought Protections

MIAMI— Following a 2020 legal victory by the Center for Biological Diversity, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today proposed protecting the Florida Keys mole skink as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. The agency also proposed designating 7,068 acres of protected critical habitat.

“Protection for this rare little lizard with a bright pink tail is coming at virtually the last possible moment,” said Elise Bennett, Florida director and attorney at the Center. “I’m so relieved that the Fish and Wildlife Service finally acknowledged how quickly sea-level rise and development could wipe out the skink and so many other species in the Keys. That’s a crucial first step. Now it’s time to get to work securing this amazing lizard’s future.”

The Service found the skink is threatened by “rapid and intense shifts in climate” including sea-level rise, more frequent high tides, and storms of increasing intensity, which destroy the lizard’s dry, sandy, coastal habitat in the Florida Keys. By 2060, the Service projects that 72% to 88% of the skink’s remaining habitat could be lost to sea-level rise alone. Development and associated human activities further threaten the rare lizard’s survival.

In 2017 the Fish and Wildlife Service inexplicably determined the Florida Keys mole skink did not warrant Endangered Species Act protections. Following a Center lawsuit, a federal district judge rejected that determination in 2020. The judge found that the agency had failed to justify its decision in light of available science showing sea-level rise driven by climate change would inundate much of the species’ habitat across its range.

“My recent visits to the Keys have felt like part of a long and heartbreaking goodbye to the skink,” said Bennett. “But this decision gives me hope. It opens the door to a slew of protections that will give this rare and beautiful lizard a fighting chance.”

The Fish and Wildlife Service wrongly denying protection to the skink is not an isolated incident. In the past 30 years, dozens of decisions by the Service have been overturned because the agency let politics guide determinations that by law are supposed to be made solely on the best available science.

Species Background

Adorned with a bright-pink tail, the Florida Keys mole skink lives exclusively along shorelines in the Florida Keys. It burrows in dry sand and hunts insects under leaves, debris and washed-up vegetation on beaches.

Accelerating sea-level rise and storms of increasing frequency threaten to inundate the skink’s coastal habitat, eventually leaving it no place to live. Because the animals survive in only a few populations across a small geographic area, a single major storm could wipe out the whole subspecies.

In addition, urban sprawl is squeezing the animal into increasingly smaller areas, while exposing it to threats from pollution, traffic and feral animals.

The Center petitioned to protect the Florida Keys mole skink under the Endangered Species Act in 2010.

Florida Keys mole skink. Credit: USFWS. Image is available for media use.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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