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Carl Hiaasen: 5 Books About Florida

The characters in Carl Hiaasen’s books aren’t real, but the issues they face are. If you are not familiar with his work, Carl Hiaasen is a Miami reporter turned author. Covering Floridian news inspired and informed his work.1 His novels are primarily set in Florida. If you are from the state, you might feel right at home within the pages of a Carl Hiaasen book. Regardless, you will enter a vivid yet relatable tale. He authors books for adults as well as young audiences. Today, we will be looking at five of his young adult novels that cover environmental issues in the state of Florida.

Disclaimer: Some light content spoilers ahead.

1. Hoot

This Carl Hiaasen novel was so iconic it was turned into a movie. In this book, three friends find the fate of a colony of burrowing owls is under threat due to new construction. They conspire to find out how to save these adorable owls. The situation they encounter is far too common.

Not exclusive to Florida, the burrowing owl has a large range across North America. 2 Florida’s rapid development means that places that were once open fields and pastures are frequently turned into shopping malls and neighborhoods. Through this, the habitat of the burrowing owl, among many other species, is often destroyed. 3 They may not be endangered, but it’s worth dedicating conservation efforts to these owls and their environments. Click here to learn more about how you can also help burrowing owls. 4 

Burrowing owl in a field.
Photo Credit: Ray Hennessy

 

2. Flush

After his father is jailed for sinking a boat that is illegally dumping into the local waterway, his son takes over to expose the polluters. Regrettably, pollution is an all-too-common occurrence in Florida’s many waterways. Even more unfortunate is the large scale of some of the pollution.

Polluted waterways in Florida’s endanger the livelihood of the animals that live in and near the water. For example, pollution harms manatees by killing the aquatic grasses that are their main food source. 5 As well, it also threatens human enjoyment and appreciation of these bodies of water and the wildlife that lives in them. Of course, we can help to keep the waterways healthy. Some methods include limiting fertilizer use, planting native plants and conserving water. 6  In Flush, Carl Hiaasen illustrates that one person can make a difference for our environment.  

Sunset silhouettes a boat on the Indian River Lagoon.
Photo Credit: Kirra Scudder

 

3. Chomp

Chomp features another father and son duo whose work with rehabilitating animals gets them a job working on the set of a survivalist television show. The hapless survivalist they work with illustrates exactly how not to act around wildlife.

Unfortunately, in Florida and elsewhere, people and animals alike have been harmed when proper guidelines for behavior around wildlife have been ignored. When encountering wild animals, do not approach them. Unlike the antagonist in Chomp demonstrates, if you have unexpectedly gotten very close, you should back up and give the animal more space. Of course, never remove an animal from their habitat. Lastly, it is polite to only observe an animal for a short period of time. Being close to humans can make some animals nervous and even interrupt their feeding or other necessary habits.

Photo Credit: Kirra Scudder

 

4. Scat

A strange incident on a science field trip leads to a mystery – In Scat Nick and Marta set out to solve it. In the process, they learn a lot about one of the rarest animals in their state: the Florida panther. Still listed as endangered, there are only about 200 Florida panthers left in the wild. Fortunately, this is a rebound from a population of around 70. 7  While they still face many challenges, the rebound of the panther population is a triumph for conservation. 8

What are some ways to help the Florida panther? If you’re in their range, make sure to follow the speed limit. 9 Furthermore, anyone in Florida can support these big cats by buying the special “Protect A Panther” license plate for their car. 10 If you want to help the Florida panther click here to learn more or donate to their cause. 9, 10

Panther with ears back.
Photo Credit: John Borrelli

 

 

5. Skink: No Surrender

Richard, the main character in Skink: No Surrender, once did a project on the extinction of the ivory-billed woodpecker. When his cousin claims to have sighted one, Richard assumes they are mistaken. This has played out similarly outside of the novel.  

Not officially seen since 1944, passionate bird watchers and researchers alike have long sought after the ivory-billed woodpecker. Some claim to have seen the bird, but no photographic or audio evidence has sufficiently proved the sighting beyond a doubt. Research continues to see if this notable bird may still be found in some areas of the southeastern United States. Sites searched include some remote swamps in Florida. 11 With this novel, Carl Hiaasen captures the desire within our imaginations that this bird may still be out there. Whether or not the legendary ivory-billed woodpecker lives on remains a mystery. 

Note: The following photo is of a pileated woodpecker. The pileated woodpecker is similar in size and shape to the ivory-billed but has different markings. As well, it is still thriving across North America.

Pileated woodpecker on tree.
Photo Credit: Kirra Scudder

 

Conclusion

Carl Hiaasen’s works exemplify that just because a novel is fictional does not mean there is not a lot of truth in it. The issues covered in these books are just a few of many and the suggestions consider just some of the ways we can act. Every area faces different challenges, and everyone has a distinct  perspective and the ability to contribute to their community. To learn more, read more about Florida’s top environmental issues or about this unique idea for environmental justice. 12, 13

Sunset airboat on Lake Washington.
Photo Credit: Kirra Scudder

 

Sources:

  1. Hiaasen, C. (2018). Biography. Carl Hiaasen. https://www.carlhiaasen.com/bio.shtml
  2. The Cornell Lab. (2022). Burrowing owl range map, all about birds, Cornell lab of ornithology. https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Burrowing_Owl/maps-range
  3. Kreider, J. (2022, August 18). Tell me about: Urban sprawl in Florida. Florida Museum. https://www.floridamuseum.ufl.edu/earth-systems/blog/tell-me-about-urban-sprawl-in-florida/
  4. Burrowing Owl Conservation Network. (2021, November 18). Burrowing Owl Conservation Network ǀ Saving Burrowing Owls and Habitat. https://burrowingowlconservation.org/
  5. McNamara, K. (2022, June 6). How to create a safe space for manatees. IDEAS For Us. https://ideasforus.org/how-to-create-a-safe-space-for-manatees/
  6. Ryan, T. (2019, October 28). Water pollution: Caused by… yard-care? IDEAS For Us. https://ideasforus.org/water-pollution-caused-by-yard-care/
  7. Newborn, S. (2021, May 23). Once nearly extinct, the Florida panther is making a comeback. NPR.org. https://www.npr.org/2021/05/23/999202593/once-nearly-extinct-the-florida-panther-is-making-a-comeback
  8. The National Wildlife Federation. (n.d.). Florida panther. National Wildlife Federation. https://www.nwf.org/Educational-Resources/Wildlife-Guide/Mammals/Florida-Panther
  9. The Florida Panther. (n.d.). Helping people & panthers. https://www.thefloridapanther.org/helping-people–panthers.html
  10. Florida panther: How to help. (n.d.). Florida Fish And Wildlife Conservation Commission. https://myfwc.com/wildlifehabitats/wildlife/panther/how-to-help/
  11. Dellinger, A. J. (2022, April 13). Researchers claim to have sighted a bird not seen since 1944. Mic. https://www.mic.com/impact/ivory-billed-woodpecker-sighting-louisiana
  12. McNamara, K. (2022, August 8). Top environmental issues in Florida. IDEAS For Us. https://ideasforus.org/top-environmental-issues-in-florida/
  13. Sabitov, M. (2022, April 14). Florida: Implementing global solutions to local issues. IDEAS For Us. https://ideasforus.org/implementing-global-solutions-to-local-issues/

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