Special Reporting Projects

WATERSHED | Connected Coastlines

a Pulitzer Center project

The year 1972 was a turning point for water in the United States. People began to grasp that sewage-filled bays, massive fish kills and flaming rivers were not inevitable costs of progress—but avoidable consequences of weak or non-existent pollution controls. The year saw some of the most significant environmental laws in American history, including Clean Water Act.

Funded by a grant from the Pulitzer Center’s nationwide Connected Coastlines reporting initiative, student journalists from the University of Florida spent the first half of 2022 investigating statewide water quality to mark this anniversary. 

They found hindrances such as poor or uneven water-quality monitoring that make it difficult for scientists and the public to pinpoint causes of pollution—and for lawmakers to regulate it. They also found bright spots where science and nature-based solutions are making headway to clean up water and bring back aquatic life. Public and political will can make a difference, scientists and policymakers say. “This is the world that we give to the next generation, and we want it to be a healthy world,” Florida International University biologist John Kominoski told environmental journalist and graduating senior Marlowe Starling. “So let’s do it.”

WATERSHED is the proud winner of the 2023 Online Journalism Awards in the student team category and Third Place in the 2023 Outstanding Student Reporting awards from the Society of Environmental Journalists.

Forever in Florida?

The chemical family known as PFAS, ubiquitous in everything from waterproof fabrics to nonstick cookware, is also becoming common in water, soil, land—and our bodies. While these “Forever Chemicals” are linked to serious adverse human health outcomes including cancer, neither the federal government nor Florida has regulated them closely.

In this series, inspired by pre-reporting I conducted a year prior, I alongside a team of fellow journalism students uncovered the hidden truth about forever chemicals in our state -- and what's not being done to get rid of the harmful compounds. 

My story, "Indestructible," explores how the PFAS in the stuff we throw away -- from food packaging to cosmetics and dental floss -- still poses a threat to humans and the environment at our waste facilities. 

The Human Hazard

Florida has long ignored its decaying septic tanks, millions of which are buried beneath Florida’s sandy soils. Long known to pollute the state’s waters, leaky tanks can also pose problems for human health. Whether they can spread COVID-19 is uncertain.

Florida’s climate preparedness has focused largely on the built and natural environment. Our semester-long investigation of climate change and public health found that human hazards — from heat-related hospitalizations to disease-carrying insects — are on the rise in Florida. Children, elders, low-income Floridians and other vulnerable populations are particularly susceptible to these risks, now amplified by coronavirus as basic programs are suspended to contend with the emergency. But potentially record heat, stronger hurricanes and other human health threats didn’t get the message to quarantine.