Mr. Skink Goes to Washington

The Center for Biological Diversity is raising the alarm for the Florida Keys Mole Skink. The pink-tailed lizard lives along the shoreline in the lower Florida Keys. It is threatened with extinction by climate-induced sea level rise and encroaching development.

“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.” (photo courtesy: Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission)

Center for Biological Diversity is Suing to protect the Florida Keys Mole Skink

Last Monday, the Center “filed a formal notice of its intent to sue the Trump administration for denying protection to the Florida Keys mole skink under the Endangered Species Act.”

Florida Keys Mole Skink is “a secretive animal, living under rocks, leafs, 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.” (photo courtesy: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

[Monday’s] filing noted that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service denied the skink protection in October despite devastating threats from flooding caused by rising seas, which are expected to inundate nearly half the lizard’s coastal habitat and underground burrows by 2060 and accelerate through the end of the century. Along with climate change, the animal is also threatened by ongoing urban sprawl in the Keys.


“Without help the Florida Keys mole skink is definitely headed for extinction,” said Elise Bennett, a Center attorney dedicated to protecting rare reptiles and amphibians. “This little lizard’s only home, the Florida Keys’ sandy coast, is being submerged by rising seas and battered by increasingly intense storms. If we don’t curb greenhouse gas pollution, this lizard and so many other plants and animals will be lost forever.”

In April 2010, the Center for Biological Diversity filed a petition with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service “to list 404 aquatic species from the southeastern United States, including the Florida Keys mole skink, under the Endangered Species Act.” Despite initial positive reviews from the federal agency, the Center has had to file years of legal actions to move the petition along. Then, after violating a court-ordered deadline of September 30, 2017, the federal agency abruptly denied the Florida Keys Mole Skink any protection.

Colorful lizard stands to lose all remaining coastal habitat to sea-level rise by the end of the century

“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.” (photo courtesy: Jake Scott, Center for Biological Diversity)

Florida Keys mole skinks can be found in the lower keys in Monroe County, Fla., and are known from the Dry Tortugas. They live along the shoreline around 20 to 31 inches above sea-level in sandy areas where they burrow into the soil and use driftwood, debris and tidal wrack as cover. Although population size for the Florida Keys mole skink is unknown, they have been in steady decline, with one estimate concluding there are between six and 20 populations left.


Because they live on shorelines, Florida Keys moles skinks are imminently threatened by rising seas, which are projected to continue to rise 14 to 34 inches by 2060, and 31 to 81 inches by 2100. The decision to deny protections to the skink only looked at a 30- to 40-year timeframe, finding the species will lose at least half its range to sea-level rise during that time. The decision ignored available projections that reflect 100 percent habitat loss through the end of this century.


Due to the small number of remaining populations and their vulnerable island locale, these skinks are also at risk of sudden population crashes from extreme weather events fueled by climate change. In September storm surge from Hurricane Irma, one of the strongest storms ever seen in the Atlantic Ocean, inundated the Florida Keys.

The Florida Keys mole skink is protected under Florida’s Endangered and Threatened Species Rule. It is time that the federal U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service does the same under the Endangered Species Act.