SAVING THE FLORIDA KEYS MOLE SKINK
The Florida Keys mole skink is one of the rarest and most mysterious of Florida natives. This small, five-inch-long lizard has shiny, armor-like scales, a pinkish-red tail and a brown body. It's a secretive animal, living under rocks, leaves, debris and washed-up beach vegetation called tidal wrack. It's also the southernmost U.S. mole skink, found mainly in Dry Tortugas and the Lower Keys along Florida's shoreline, living in sandy areas where it burrows deep for refuge.
But this little lizard is in trouble much deeper than its burrows. Its populations are currently in sharp decline because of urban development in the past and sea-level rise now and in the future, which causes flooding that destroys its habitat. Human population has spurred development along the shoreline in the Florida Keys, destroying many of the nooks and crannies this mole skink calls home.
The Center is working to halt destructive sea-level rise and prevent the extinction of Florida Keys mole skinks. In 2010 we filed a petition to protect 404 southeastern aquatic species, including the skink, under the Endangered Species Act. In its 2011 response to that petition, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service found that the mole skink may warrant the Act's protection — but the agency failed to make a final decision. So in 2013 we filed a lawsuit seeking protections for this mole skink and its habitat, and a few months later, the Service agreed to make a protection decision by 2017. Under the Trump administration, that year the Fish and Wildlife Service unlawfully denied Endangered Species Act protection to Florida Keys mole skinks, along with 24 other highly imperiled species. So we had to sue again in 2019, and a year later we prevailed in court.
Following that 2020 legal victory by the Center, in 2022 the Service finally proposed protecting Florida Keys mole skinks as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. The agency also proposed designating 7,068 acres of protected critical habitat.