Axios Tampa Bay

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It's Chewsday, innit?

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  • Sounds like: "Tortoise," Frankie Stew and Harvey Gunn.

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Today's newsletter is 871 words, a 3-minute read.

1 big scoop: Mysterious tortoise deaths at Boyd Hill

A gopher tortoise at Seabranch Preserve State Park in Stuart. Photo: Jeffrey Greenberg/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

More than a third of Boyd Hill Nature Preserve's gopher tortoise population has died, preserve officials confirmed to Axios — and the cause is a mystery.

Why it matters: Gopher tortoises are in trouble, environmental groups say.

The latest: Surveyors conducting a gopher tortoise burrow survey found 57 tortoise carcasses over the past six weeks at the preserve, St. Petersburg's natural and cultural areas manager Taylor Graham Thornton told Axios.

  • No foul play is suspected, she said.
  • The burrow survey is conducted every two years to keep track of the 245-acre, city-owned park's gopher tortoise population. The most recent survey began last month and concluded on Sunday.

The big picture: Gopher tortoises can live up to 80 years and are spread out among parts of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina and Florida.

  • They thrive in pine flatwoods, prairies and scrub ecosystems, where they can burrow into sandy soil.
  • Their burrows provide shelter, food and other resources for more than 350 species, some of which face their own dwindling numbers.

Stunning stat: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service projected that as much as 70% of the gopher tortoise population will be lost by 2100, according to the Center for Biological Diversity's lawsuit, which is ongoing.

Zoom in: In Boyd Hill, it wasn't unusual to log a few carcasses during past burrow surveys, Thornton told Axios. But as volunteers kept finding bleached, empty shells, it became clear something was wrong.

  • Based on the state of the carcasses and where they were found, surveyors suspected that coyotes were eating the turtles.

The intrigue: Wildlife officials are unsure whether they killed and ate the reptiles or fed on the carcasses after they died, possibly from an illness.

What's next: The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and federal officials took blood samples and swabs from living tortoises to determine whether they're sick, Thornton said.

  • They'll also set up wildlife cameras to observe coyotes.
  • From there, wildlife officials will make recommendations for the best path forward.

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2. 🤔 The Dem candidate touting DeSantis' praise

Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks at a press conference in Sanford, Florida. Photo: Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Ashley Brundage wants to become Florida's first transgender elected official — and she thinks a glowing letter from Gov. Ron DeSantis might help her get there.

Why it matters: It's a sign that Florida Democrats are looking outside their base to win over voters in a state that's turned increasingly red in recent cycles.

State of play: Brundage is running for the Democratic nomination to challenge incumbent Tampa state Rep. Karen Gonzalez Pittman (R).

  • In 2022, she received a letter from DeSantis congratulating her on winning the "Spirit of the Community Award," Fox 13 reports.
  • She believes the letter, which lauds her "dedication and hard work," sets her apart from other Democrats and could help her win over independents.

What she's saying: "I think that it definitely opens the door for a more broader conversation across party lines," Brundage tells Fox 13.

Zoom in: Pittman's seat, House District 65, has a makeup of 39% Republicans, 30% Democrats, and 28% no-party affiliation.

  • Brundage is running on addressing soaring insurance costs, protecting small businesses and abortion access, per Fox 13.

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3. The Pulp: Fire union president jailed

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

St. Petersburg police arrested Tampa Fire Union President ​​Nicolas Stocco last month for "disorderly intoxication" after officers said they caught him drunkenly relieving himself in a downtown parking garage. (Tampa Bay Times)

🏥 ​​Hillsborough's NAACP chapter hosted its first-ever health expo over the weekend. Organizers hope the all-day event, which featured health screenings, will help address health disparities in the community. (WFTS)

🪧 Protests over the war in Gaza have ramped up this week around the country. In Tampa, around 50 protesters blocked traffic from the highway into downtown for about 15 minutes. (Axios)

4. 🔥 Selene's pick roasted

Bracket: Axios Visuals

👋 Selene here. Sorry Black Crow, I fought for ya but Bandit took 53% of the vote. I'm still your dedicated sipper.

  • Bandit takes on Craft Kafe next (sorry Foxtail lovers!)

Meanwhile: Yacob's fav, Blind Tiger, mauled Buddy Brew with 56% of the vote. Can it beat Spaddy's too?

The one to beat: Kahwa, the biggest local chain, stomped poor Patrona.

Vote now: Keep your favorite in the running

5. 🦟 1 poem to go

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Today's poem is by reader Gigi Marino.

Noseeums

A bad marriage,

like Florida heat,

is filled with things

you cannot see or hear

but bite so hard

and deep and fast

you question your sanity:

Did this really happen to me

on such a fine night?

When you turn to respond,

there is nothing left to give —

just itch and scratch,

itch and scratch and grief,

gnawing and a new knowing

so sharp like shattered glass

that you must let go

without ever understanding why.

📬 Want to share some words for National Poetry Month? Hit reply or email [email protected] and your work could appear in a future newsletter!

🧋 Selene enjoyed Spaddy's Lavender Bunny latte and vegan breakfast burrito.

🍏 Yacob chugged a sparkling green apple cherry Celsius.

☕️ Kathryn's boyfriend brought her a cup of homemade coffee in bed. Yes, she's spoiled.

This newsletter was edited by Jeff Weiner and copy edited by Azi Najafi.