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Florida's state shell at higher risk of extinction than previously thought – Science Daily

The Florida horse conch population — one of the world’s largest invertebrate animals — is shrinking. Established in 1969 as the Florida state shell with a record length of two feet, it has become symbolic of Florida’s natural resources and widely used in advertising for the state’s tourism industry. But unregulated commercial harvesting and recreational live collection are pushing populations closer to collapse.

According to a study led by the University of South Florida, the average lifespan of a Florida horse conch is between eight and 10 years, and it doesn’t start reproducing until about age six, giving birth to up to 28,000 offspring each year. This is a dramatic shift from previous belief that a horse conch could live for half a century — meaning far fewer offspring are born to replace those removed as a result of harvest or natural causes.

The interdisciplinary research team, which includes the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and current and former USF graduate students, also found that the largest Florida horse conch is no more than 16 years old. The two-foot shell is on display at the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum in Sanibel. The team’s results, published in PLOS ONE, were based on analyses of museum specimens, reducing harm to an already fragile population if they removed shells from the wild.

To estimate horse conch ages, researchers analyzed chemical bands in the shell, which track water temperature as the snail grows and can be counted like tree rings to measure the passage of time. Unlike tree rings, which are visible, the chemical bands can only be determined by geochemical analysis.

The team was also able to determine the horse conch’s amount of growth each year by wrapping string around each coil and then straightening and measuring the string. They found females grow rapidly each year of their lives, whereas males slow down early and mature at a much smaller size. Researchers determined that female horse conchs start laying eggs at about age six, based on spikes in shell carbon levels.

“Our research shows that horse conch reproduction is less likely to keep pace with intense harvest than previously thought,” said lead author Greg Herbert, associate professor from the USF School of Geosciences. “Horse conch populations are important. They create habitat for other species by leaving empty shells of dead prey around for fish, crabs and other animals to use as homes. They also contribute to the unique experience that we have in Florida of being able to go to the beach and seeing one of the largest seashells in the world at the water’s edge.”
Data from FWC shows that there has been a steady population decline since the mid-1990s. Commercial fishermen reported a peak count of 14,511 Florida horse conchs in 1996, followed by 6,124 in 2000, 1,461 in 2015 and just 67 in 2020.

“We still know very little about how many horse conchs exist and where their preferred habitats or what their optimal environmental conditions are,” said co-author Stephen Geiger, research scientist at the FWC. “Because we have no dedicated funding for more than 1,500 species of mollusks found in the waters that surround Florida, we continue to seek grants that enable us to study their biological traits, including those that will help managers decide if some species are in need of better protection.”

The shells that were studied were collected from the Dry Tortugas, Vaca Key, Sanibel Island and Cape Romano. Researchers say the further north you go, the smaller the Florida horse conch, possibly due to overexploited fisheries and recreational collecting.

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Erdogan unveils Turkey’s first astronaut on election trail

Turkey’s first astronaut will travel to the International Space Station by the end of the year, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Saturday after an illness forced him to cancel several days of appearances.

Air force pilot Alper Gezeravci, 43, was selected to be the first Turkish citizen in space. His backup is Tuva Cihangir Atasever, 30, an aviation systems engineer at Turkish defense contractor Roketsan.

Erdogan made the announcement at the Teknofest aviation and space fair in Istanbul, the president’s first public appearance since falling ill during a TV interview on Tuesday. He appeared alongside Azerbaijan’s president, Ilham Aliyev, and Libya’s interim prime minister, Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh.

“Our friend, who will go on Turkey’s first manned space mission, will stay on the International Space Station for 14 days,” Erdogan said. “Our astronaut will perform 13 different experiments prepared by our country’s esteemed universities and research institutions during this mission.”

Erdogan described Gezeravci as a “heroic Turkish pilot who has achieved significant success in our Air Force Command.”

The Turkish Space Agency website describes Gezeravci as a 21-year air force veteran and F-16 pilot who attended the U.S. Air Force Institute of Technology.

Wearing a red flight jacket, Erdogan appeared in robust health as he addressed crowds at the festival. Turkey’s presidential and parliamentary elections are scheduled for May 14, and opinion polls show Erdogan in potentially his toughest race since he came to power two decades ago.

Turkey is dealing with a prolonged economic downturn, and the government received criticism after a February earthquake killed more than 50,000 in the country. Experts blamed the high death toll in part on shoddy construction and law enforcement of building codes.

While campaigning for reelection, Erdogan has unveiled a number of prestigious projects, such as Turkey’s first nuclear power plant and the delivery of natural gas from Black Sea reserves.


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Israelis rally for 17th week against judicial overhaul plans

Tens of thousands of Israelis protested judicial overhaul proposals Saturday in the 17th weekly rally against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s governing coalition.

The demonstrations have been ongoing since the beginning of the year, and organizers plan to continue, despite Netanyahu delaying the changes last month. The leaders of the mass protests want the proposals scrapped altogether.

“We are just getting started,” read a banner that demonstrators held at the main protest in Tel Aviv, Israel’s economic hub. Smaller demonstrations were reported in several parts of the country.

Spanish Prime Minister and Socialist leader Pedro Sanchez voiced support to the Israeli antigovernment protesters in a video message aired on a large screen in Tel Aviv.

We as Socialist International have always fought for freedom, equality, justice, and democracy. Yet, as many of you know, these are values that we cannot take for granted,” Sanchez said.

Protesters argue the proposed changes threaten Israel’s democratic values, hurting a system of checks and balances and concentrating authority in the hands of Netanyahu and his extremist allies.

They also say that the prime minister has a conflict of interest in trying to reshape the nation’s legal system at a time when he is on trial.

Such changes would result in weakening the Supreme Court, giving parliament, which is controlled by Netanyahu’s allies, authority to overturn its rulings and limiting its ability to review laws.

The protest gained support from the military’s elite reserve force, businesses, and large sectors of the Israeli community. But on Thursday, tens of thousands of right-wing Israelis who support the legal



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‘Total nightmare:’ As Florida insurance companies go insolvent, homeowners pay the price

Seminole county couple has three-year open claim because of insolvent insurer.

What happens when your property insurer goes out of business?

It is happening quite a bit in Florida and is leading to all policyholders paying more.

The Florida Insurance Guaranty is adding a 1% assessment to policyholders starting in October to cover claims for insolvent companies.

A Seminole County couple has lived without a fully functioning kitchen for three years because their insurer went out of business.

Sandra Braga Alfonso said what started as a leak under her sink has turned into a three-year nightmare.

She said there was already a fight with her insurer to pay out the claim, but then the company went under and it got worse.

Alfonso has a fridge and an oven but is missing lower cabinets, a stove, her normal sink, and a dishwasher.

“It has been a total nightmare,” Alfonso said.

It started in December of 2019 with a leak under her sink, she said.

She eventually discovered water in all her lower cabinets and in the sheetrock behind the cabinets, she said.

“The insurance company gave us approval to rip everything out that was damaged and now they don’t want to pay to put it back in,” Alfonso said.

The insurance company cut a check for $4,800, she said.

Of that $4,300 went to water mitigation to prevent mold. That left about $500, not nearly enough to replace her kitchen, she said.

“We’ve tried to settle, go to mediation, everything,” she said.

Finally, Alfonso and her husband filed a lawsuit against her insurer, but after two years of hearings and motions and waiting for a court date, her insurer went out of business.

She was with Capitol Insurance, but according to the Florida Department of Financial Services, Capitol was merged into Southern Fidelity, which is now one of 14 companies in liquidation.

“I’m over it. I just want my kitchen. I just want to be able to live again. I love to cook, and I can’t,” Alfonso said.

In the last year, Florida lawmakers have had three special legislative sessions to deal with Florida’s property insurance crises.

News 6 asked Alfonso if she thinks anything is being done in Tallahassee to help consumers with their insurance issues.

“No, it’s all for the insurance company,” she said.

One of the biggest moves made in Tallahassee over the last year is the legislature doing away with what is referred to as “one-way attorney’s fees.”

That means if you sued your insurer over a claim and won, the insurance company had to pay your attorney’s fees. Without it, Alfonso said she would never have been able to sue her insurer even though in her case, it didn’t do any good.

No. My husband’s retired. He’s on disability and he’s retired we’re on a fixed income,” Alfonso said.

Alfonso has now turned to the Florida Insurance Guaranty Association, which handles the claims of insolvent property and casualty insurance companies.

They are still negotiating the amount it will take to fix her kitchen — more than three years later.

“I owned my first home when I was 20-something years old,” Alfonso said. “I’ve been paying my insurance premiums since I’m like 25, never filed a claim and look where I am now,” Alfonso said.


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