With summer beginning this week, the warm, wet weather will definitely bring the mosquito, which can be quite a nuisance in the Florida Keys.
Phil Goodman, Mosquito Control Board member, joined Good Morning Keys on KeysTalk 96.9/102.5FM recently to talk about how the organization is working to mitigate the mosquito population.
The Mosquito Control District has joined in a partnership with Oxitec, a company that has created a self-limiting gene in the Aedes aegypti mosquito.
When the male insects are released and reproduce with wild females, all of their offspring inherit a copy of this gene. The self-limiting gene disrupts the proper functioning of the insects’ cells by over-producing a protein in them, interfering with the cells’ ability to produce other essential proteins needed for development. So by disrupting the insect’s normal development, the gene prevents it from surviving to adulthood.
Since the self-limiting gene works by using the insect’s own biology against itself, the control method provides a solution that only affects that particular species of pest without introducing harmful toxins.
The project has been approved by the EPA and hundreds of Keys families are participating in the project.
There are three parts of the project in the Florida Keys. The first part is underway right now in Vaca Key. There will be three release sites and three control sites. Two are in Vaca and one is in Key Colony Beach.
On average about 250,000 mosquitos are released each week. Overall about 7 million will be released when the project is complete.
Goodman said, “That sounds like a lot, but a typical mosquito here in the Florida Keys in one mosquito season can have more than a billion offspring.”
The point of releasing the Oxitec mosquitos is to reduce the population of the Aedes aegypti mosquito. For every one that’s released, the population is being reduced numerous times that.
The adult males are non-biting will gradually release themselves from boxes in the test areas. As soon as they are out, they go to vegetation and find mates.
Goodman said, “You really don’t even see these mosquitos in the test areas. People don’t even realize that we’re releasing mosquitos. Everything is going really well right now with the project.”
A lot of data is being gathered.
The Aedes aegypti mosquito carries with it the threat of disease.
Goodman said, “We have some really high expectations that it will help. We’re looking at a lot of different things right now. We’re not just looking at this, but we’re looking at other ways to reduce the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which is just really a very invasive, this is the problem mosquito for us. We’re looking at traps right now that attract and kill Aedes aegypti using sound waves, but these can reduce it just marginally. We need some technology that’s going to help us increase the kill rate for the Aedes aegypti 30, 40 and 50 percent. These marginal ones, everything helps, but we need something big like the Oxitec, like these sterile insect techniques that we’re looking at. This is where I think the future for mosquito control lies.”
Monroe County, Miami-Dade and parts of Broward are in Climate Zone 1A. Those are the only three counties in the continental US that are in this zone.
Goodman said, “The few degrees difference that distinguishes us from the rest of the country makes a big difference in mosquito control and how important it is.”
Climate Zone 1A is considered a tropical climate.
Goodman said, “We are one of the few tropical parts of the world that the diseases of the Aedes aegypti mosquitoare not endemic. There’s over 100 countries that are in the tropics. Every tropical country has the Aedes aegypti mosquito and over 100 of them, the diseases are endemic to those. We are one of the few areas where it’s not. That number of 100 was up from only nine countries prior to 1990. You can see how this mosquito is really moving north and really becoming a real menace worldwide.”
Thousands of people die every year from the diseases of the Aedes aegypti mosquito.
The Oxitec project is fully funded — no Monroe County taxes will be used.
Goodman said, “But the benefits will be big for Monroe County should this program be successful and we have very high expectations that it will be.”
Aedes aegypti is less than 5% of the total mosquito population, but it’s 100% of the problem for disease carrying mosquitos. In fact about 50% of the Mosquito Control District’s chemical budget is spent trying to control them.
It doesn’t take many of the mosquitoes to spread disease. Just one infected mosquito can create an epidemic in a very short amount of time.
Goodman said, “I’m a chemist and I can tell you there’s nothing on the horizon from the chemical/pesticide side that will help us, so we need new technologies.”
That’s where Oxitec comes in.
Mosquito spraying will be ongoing even in the Oxitec areas.
Goodman said, “We’re one of the highest regulated entities in the government. So a lot of people have to approve things, so this has gone through a real high scientific scrutiny. Oxitec has been releasing these mosquitos now for 13 years, over a billion released throughout three continents and numerous countries and not one unintended consequence has happened. I think it’s proven to be a very safe project and a very effective project and we hope to prove that this year here in the Keys.”
The next educational webinar will be held on June 28 at 5 p.m. Log onto keysmosquitoproject.com for more information.