For most of his 15 years, Levi Draheim led a beachy life on a barrier island on Florida’s east coast, swimming, surfing and sailing in the nearshore waves. He dreamed of someday becoming a marine biologist. But Levi’s world is changing.
Warming temperatures led to widespread Sargassum seaweed and harmful algae blooms in the Atlantic Ocean and 156-mile Indian River Lagoon, which together encircle the island. The seaweed and algae blooms have left beaches stinking with rotting seaweed and dead marine life. In the Indian River Lagoon, the algae blooms have killed seagrass, leading to an unprecedented die-off of manatees that consume the marine plants. On some days, Levi wore a mask at the beach to guard against the smell.
Warming temperatures also have contributed to more frequent and damaging storms, and in 2017 a series of storms including Hurricane Irma, which wrought billions of dollars in damage across the state, caused floodwaters to rise 18 inches in Levi’s front yard. His family had to fortify the home with sandbags to prevent further damage. After Levi’s mother became pregnant with his half-sister Juniper, a curious 2-year-old with sparse blond hair and big brown eyes, the family decided to abandon the island and move to the mainland.
“It’s kind of disappointing not being able to live on the barrier island anymore, because there’s so much fun stuff that I could do. Most of my friends, they live on the barrier island,” says Levi, now in Melbourne, Fla. “It’s a mix of disappointment and also frustration, frustration with leaders.”
Earlier this year, Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried announced a plan to put the state on a path toward cleaner energy, cutting the emissions Florida contributes to the climate disruptions that are already battering it. Behind the plan was a focused campaign by some 200 young Floridians all under the age of 25. Levi was the youngest. [Continue reading…]