Endangered Key Deer searching for fresh water after Hurricane Irma

A thirsty deer drinks water provided by the USFWS at National Key Deer Refuge on Big Pine Key. Credit: USFWS

Hurricane Irma’s storm surge increased the salinity levels in much of the fresh water around the Florida Keys. Officials are growing concerned the salty water could impact the endangered Key deer along with birds, rabbits, butterflies and other species.

As a result, wildlife experts are now asking for the publics help to provide fresh water.

“We recognize that fresh water is still a rare commodity at this time and first responder and resident needs should be considered before offering water to wildlife,” said Dan Clark, project leader for the Florida Keys National Wildlife Refuges Complex.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) is emphasizing that the wildlife does not need food, just fresh water.

Key Deer Irma Salty Water
USFWS is providing fresh water stations for wildlife on National Key Deer Refuge due to increased salinity of the fresh water. Credit: USFWS

The Key deer only live in the Florida Keys and recent estimates put the population between 700-1000. 

If you do have water resources to share, here’s how you can help:

  • Provide water in a shallow basin so that Key deer, birds, and even insects like butterflies and other pollinators can drink. (Something like an upside down trash can lid would work well.)
  • Change water frequently to avoid mosquitoes; clean water basin daily to minimize disease spread. Use soapy water or a 10% bleach solution to clean containers, rinsing well afterward.
  • If there are mosquito control activities in your area, turn the container upside down or move it indoors during pesticide application. Clean the basin to minimize pesticide exposure to non-target critters before putting it back outside.
  • Place containers away from residences and roads to minimize encounters between wildlife and people. Keep wildlife wild!
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The USFWS says they will continue to monitor both food and water availability for wildlife. The refuge has a source for water for this effort, so donations are appreciated but not needed at this time.

If you want an additional way to help, consider reaching out to Friends and Volunteers of Refuges, a nonprofit support group for the refuge, at http://www.favorfloridakeys.org/.

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