Tom Wessels, MA
Department of Environmental Studies
Ranked as Florida’s third largest industry, the phosphate industry generates billions of dollars each year for the state. Ninety-five percent of Florida’a phosphate is used in agriculture, 90% of which is created into fertilizer and 5% as feed supplements for livestock. Phosphate beds are found in lands characterized by wetlands, lakes and riparian communities mixed with upland hardwoods, pine, and palmetto scrub communities. In order to reach these underlying phosphate beds, typical mining operations displace 3 to 20 meters of sand and clay overburden, disrupting the landscape, the water table, and the soil composition. Reclamation of phosphate-mined sites has been required by law in Florida since 1975. Additionally, there is a severance tax placed on all mined phosphate rock. This tax is used to help preserve lands for the State of Florida. The objective of this study was to compare amphibian and reptile presence/absence between natural and created herbaceous wetlands on a reclaimed phosphate-mined site in South Central Florida. Significant differences in the number of amphibian and reptile species were found between the natural wetlands and the mitigated sites, with 199 amphibians and reptiles observed at the natural sites and only 35 were observed at mitigated sites. Both industry and the State of Florida have a vested interest in the successful reclamation of phosphate-mined sites. Similar research has been funded by the Florida Institute of Phosphate Research, (FIPR), regarding reclamation techniques, wildlife usage, and succession enhancement studies for upland species. This research project hopes to serve as a pilot study for future projects. Literature searches produced little to no information in terms of studies on amphibian and reptile populations on mitigated wetland systems.