ST. PETERSBURG, Fla.— In response to a Center for Biological Diversity lawsuit, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has agreed to reconsider its denial of Endangered Species Act protections to the Cedar Key mole skink, a highly imperiled lizard found only on a few islands off Florida’s Nature Coast. The Service must make a new decision by July 31, 2024.
The Center’s lawsuit, filed earlier this year, challenged the Service’s failure to base its 2018 skink decision on the most current and accurate climate science, which demonstrated that the already rare lizards are at risk of extinction from sea-level rise, among other threats.
“I’m relieved the skink will get a new decision, and I think the Fish and Wildlife Service will now account for the very real and urgent threats of climate change and rising seas,” said Elise Bennett, a senior attorney at the Center. “The Endangered Species Act has saved hundreds of species from extinction, and it can save these skinks too, but only if the Service decides to protect these beautiful little lizards.”
The Service projects that sea-level rise will inundate nearly a third of the lizard’s coastal habitat by 2060 and nearly two-thirds by the end of the century. Habitat remaining above water will be degraded by storm surges and saltwater intrusion driven by climate change. As habitat is drowned and degraded, urban development will prevent the lizard from moving to higher ground across roughly half its range.
“We know that climate change and sea-level rise will transform Florida in the coming decades, putting species and entire ecosystems at risk,” said Bennett. “Burying our heads in the sand won’t change that reality. That’s why government officials must commit to looking at climate science with clear eyes and taking the necessary steps to protect the skink and so many other unique creatures who call Florida home.”
Adorned with a light-pink tail, the Cedar Key mole skink lives exclusively on the shorelines of the Cedar Key islands, along roughly 10 miles of Florida’s Gulf Coast. The lizards burrow in dry sand and hunt insects under leaves, debris and washed-up vegetation on beaches. In addition to threats from climate change and development, the skink is also at risk of vehicle strikes, exposure to pollution and pesticides, overcollection, and predation by feral animals and fire ants.
The Center petitioned to protect the Cedar Key mole skink under the Endangered Species Act in 2010. In 2015 the Service found the lizard might warrant the protection, but in 2018 the agency ultimately denied the petition.