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Florida Enters Phase 3 Reopening, TPS Under Threat, ‘Urban’ Manta Rays In South Florida

Manta ray swimming in shallow ocean water.
Bryant Turffs
Marine Megafauna Foundation
Marine biologists have found strong evidence that South Florida has a nursery ground for manta rays. It’s only the third that’s even been found in the world.

Florida enters Phase 3 of reopening. TPS is under threat for some 300,000 immigrants. Plus, dozens of manta rays have been found swimming in the shallow waters of South Florida's coastline.

On this Monday, Sept. 28, episode of Sundial:

Florida Enters Phase 3 Reopening

It was a much different scene for South Florida’s nightlife on Saturday as bars and nightclubs re-opened their doors for the first time since March, after Gov. Ron DeSantis moved the state into phase three.

He made the announcement Friday at an empty restaurant in St. Petersburg, noting the economic toll the pandemic has put on many small businesses.

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The executive order also limits the ability of local governments to restrict business activity and enforce social distancing and mask requirements.

“It’s rendering many of the rules toothless — meaning that there’s really not much of a punishment for individuals if they break any social distancing rules, leaving [local] governments in this awkward position,” said Ana Ceballos, the Miami Herald’s state government reporter, about the order, which suspends fines and feed as an “act of executive grace.”

We spoke with Ceballos about Florida entering phase three reopening and what that means locally for South Florida.

TPS Under Threat

Hundreds of thousands of immigrants living legally in the U.S. could face deportation as early as next year after a federal court ruled in favor of ending their temporary protection.

This affects Temporary Protected Status holders from El Salvador, Haiti, Nicaragua and Sudan. TPS protects immigrants fleeing war or natural disasters from deportation and allows them to work in the U.S.

The Trump administration has been trying to end TPS for people from six countries for years and this latest ruling brings that reality closer.

Many of these TPS holders have lived in the U.S. for decades and have U.S.-born children.

“This [ruling] means the separation of these families and going back to these countries that are in no condition to receive them,” said José Miguel Cruz, the director of research at FIU's Kimberly Green Latin American and Caribbean Center.

We spoke with Cruz about the impact of this ruling. We also heard from Michael Vastine, a professor of law at St. Thomas University and the director of the school’s immigration clinic.

‘Urban’ Manta Rays In South Florida

Going swimming or boating in South Florida means you might have been fortunate enough to see a dolphin or manatee in the waters.

You might’ve also seen some large, flat, diamond-shaped fish near the shore recently.

In Palm Beach County, there have been dozens of juvenile Manta Rays swimming right off the coast.

“You go to the beach and you see signs about the sea turtles. You're not supposed to swim with the dolphins or approach the whales. And all these things are very well known. You have manatee speed reduction zones, but there's no information about manta rays here,” says Jessica Pate, the founder and lead scientist of the Florida Manta Project at the Marine Megafauna Foundation.

She’s spent the past three years studying this population and she has found strong evidence that South Florida has a nursery ground for these manta rays. It’s only the third that’s even been found in the world, the other two were identified recently in Indonesia and the Gulf of Mexico.

“All of the males that we see here in South Florida have very, very small claspers indicative of very young manta rays," said Pate. That means that South Florida is an important developmental habitat for manta rays.

Anyone can help this threatened species by reporting their own sightings of manta rays.

If you see one of these shadowy swimmers, you can record the location and time. If you have a camera handy, you can take a photo and upload the information to the global manta ray database.

Leslie Ovalle Atkinson is the former lead producer behind Sundial. As a multimedia producer, she also worked on visual and digital storytelling.