Emergency room visits, for actual emergencies, are traumatic. Hopefully, you haven’t had any but if you have, I’m sure you have vivid memories, if you were conscious. I’ve had two. One somewhat typical, a rupturing appendix and one that isn’t a mosquito bite. Yes, a mosquito. When I was four, I fell asleep on the patio at home on a summer afternoon. When I woke up, I couldn’t see out of one eye. My eyelid was so swollen, my eye couldn’t open. I was freaked out, my parents were too and off the ER we went. Diagnosis? Mosquito bites on the eyelid. That’s when I learned I was allergic to them. It’s also when I learned to loathe them. Unfortunately, they love me, I apparently have the pheromones they love earning me the nickname “sweetmeat” with my brothers. Anyway, I’d love to be rid of mosquitoes as much as anyone else but we don’t have a good record of messing with nature. In fact, there's not a single example of environmental manipulation that I’m aware of that seems to have worked out better than nature itself and we’re a case study for it in Florida. From Lake O’ to our canals, the Everglades, inlets, you name it we’ve made it worse while attempting to make something better.
Yet, that’s exactly what the Florida Department of Agriculture is now attempting to do with mosquitoes. The British company, Oxitec, has been pushing for the use of their genetically modified mosquitoes in Florida. Earlier this week they were given the go-ahead by Florida’s Department of Agriculture. The plan includes 750 million genetically modified mosquitoes which will be released into the Florida Keys. The modified mosquitoes are designed to breed only male mosquitoes which don’t bite. A specific date for the release hasn’t been announced. And it never should be. Here’s why.
Last September the initial tests for Oxitec’s modified mosquitoes showed something alarming in Brazil. After seeing initial positive results, Brazil’s mosquito populations became larger than ever and the mosquitoes became more resilient than ever. In what’s been described as the Jurassic Park effect, the mosquitoes found a way to mate with other species of mosquitoes. During the process, they developed certain survival abilities which aided in immunity from insecticides and created a new stronger breed of mosquito!
The Florida Keys have 40 species of mosquitoes. There’s every possibility of a Brazilian repeat. History tells us the law of unintended consequences will bite us in the butt when we mess with nature. Oxitec’s multiyear tests in Brazil tell us there’s a risk of making the problem even worse and yet a plan to release 750 modified mosquitoes was approved by our Ag Department? Maybe this is what happens when we elect an attorney from Fort Lauderdale to run the state’s agriculture department. Hopefully, it’s stopped before details on the release are finalized.
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