In the cosmos nebulas are nurseries where billions of stars are born. In Florida, certainly in Flagler, ditches, swales, bird feeders, old tires collecting water, ponds, lakes and all those expanses of standing water left behind by the drenching of Hurricane Irma are nurseries where billions of mosquitoes are born.
Those billions have started invading: a sample analysis of traps by the East Flagler Mosquito Control District shows this week’s population spiking to two to three times the population of the four previous weeks. Since Irma drenched the west side of the county as well, that area is swarming with mosquitoes, too.
To stop the swarms, Flagler County government, the East Mosquito Control District and the Florida Department of Agriculture have teamed up to send two planes airborne tonight and tomorrow essentially to carpet-bomb Flagler’s mosquito populations everywhere from the ocean the western border of Flagler County—well beyond the eastern zone the Mosquito Control District is responsible for.
You will hear and possibly see the bombers, two Beechcraft King Air turboprop planes that’ll be spraying from low altitude the insecticide naled (about which you can learn plenty from the Environmental Protection Agency here), starting tonight. “In recent years,” the EPA states, “naled has been applied by aerial spraying to about 16 million acres per year within the mainland United States as part of routine mosquito control. Naled has been used in highly populated major metropolitan areas as well as agricultural and more rural areas.”
One of the two King Air planes was parked at the Flagler County Executive Airport late this afternoon, contracted from Clarke Mosquito Control, an Illinois-based company. The second plane was expected at 6:30 p.m. East Mosquito Control will not be flying the planes, but it will be sending its trucks along certain routes to spray, and after the planes’ spraying, which will cover the county in two nights, mosquito control will mop up where necessary, using trucks and its helicopter, Mosquito Control Director Mark Positano said.
The way the planes got here was after County Administrator Craig Coffey and Positano had a conversation Monday about the impending mosquito invasion, which Coffey himself was beginning to notice, and how to counter it. The state told Coffey and Positano that they were waiting for the swarms to start hitting before responding. But Coffey said it was better to pre-empt the invasion.
It takes 14 days for mosquitoes to take flight after the larval stage, which begins in mosquito eggs’ equivalent of a womb: any kind of standing water, even water as shallow as an inch. The eggs will hatch in a matter of days, the larvae will wiggle around for a dozen days after that, growing into the mosquito that will glory through a life of a few weeks before dying. The hotter the days, the quicker the metamorphosis into a mosquito. Irma struck 11 days ago, so the 14-day mark when the mosquito population is set to explode is imminent.
“What we did is I reached out with my contacts with the Department of Agriculture to really get it moving quicker so when we hit the numbers we were ready to do,” Coffey said.
The county and the mosquito control district had done something similar in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew, which left much less water in the region, and in 2004, when maps were devised to plan the assault. (Unfortunately, the map posted on Mosquito Control’s website is very small.) Those maps are being used again this time. And for the East Flagler Mosquito Control District, being part of the response is an opportunity to show the agency in a brighter light after a summer of financial disarray and shake-ups at the top of the organization.
The Hurricane Matthew assault had cost about $40,000, Coffey said. The next two days’ assault will cost closer to $100,000, though the county will not have to front the money, much of which is expected to be reimbursed by the Federal Emergency Management Administration. The source of the money appears to be the state Department of Agriculture. “I’ve not been asked to front any money,” Coffey said. “This has been directly through the Department of Agriculture.”
Bob Snyder, the director of Flagler County’s Health Department, spoke of the battle against mosquitoes on WNZF’s Free For All Fridays this morning. “The mantra is drain and cover,” Snyder said. “Of course when you’re outside wear shoes, socks, long pants, long sleeves, and use insect repellant.” Following those two rules should help protect residents, he said.
“We’re very grateful for the assistance of the health department and the county to really aggressively pursue some of these health and safety issues that we’re now facing,” Palm Coast Mayor Milissa Holland said. Nate McLaughlin, chairman of the County Commission, spoke of the west side still being under water and breeding mosquitoes.
“I don’t think there’s any mosquito rights groups that are going to say No, we have to stop the slaughter of innocent mosquitoes,” David Ayres, the show’s host, said. Then he added: “Or there might be.”
Actually, there is, but not in Flagler. A similar assault was planned against the mosquito hordes in Clay County until the Clay County Commission, after receiving hundreds of emails from residents protesting the spraying, cancelled the planned air raids. Instead, the county’s agriculture extension office will be using slow-moving trucks to do spraying along 1,400 miles of roads.
Coffey said he is not aware of any local opposition to the aerial spraying.
Positano described the type of mosquito the aerial spraying will target as “very aggressive,” the sort that can fly up to five miles in a single night. “There’s a good chance will kill a majority of the mosquito for several days,” Positano said.
The spraying is expected between 8 .m. and 5 a.m. over the next two nights.