[Coral-List] Fwd: The Consequences of Hurricanes

Jim Hendee Jim.Hendee at noaa.gov
Tue Oct 12 07:46:49 EDT 2004

I'm forwarding this for Brent Plater:

-----Original Message-----
From: Brent Plater [mailto:bplater at biologicaldiversity.org]
Sent: Tuesday, September 07, 2004 12:34 PM
To: 'coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov'
Subject: The Consequences of Hurricanes


I came across this article discussing the environmental impacts of
hurricanes in Florida.  However, the reporter focuses almost entirely on
terrestrial species. Does anyone on the ground has an assessment or even a
hypothesis of what the most recent hurricanes might mean to the success or
demise of coral reefs throughout Florida and the Caribbean?  I've seen a few
postings that describe anecdotal observations, and more of those would also
be helpful.  Feel free to contact my by phone if you wish.

The AP article follows.




Brent Plater
Staff Attorney
Center for Biological Diversity
San Francisco Bay Area Office
1095 Market St., Suite 511
San Francisco, CA 94103
Phone: 415-436-9682 x 301
Fax: 415-436-9683
bplater at biologicaldiversity.org

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Hurricanes Bring Environmental Renewal 

Mon Sep 6, 5:49 PM ET  Add Science - AP to My Yahoo! 

By RACHEL LA CORTE, Associated Press Writer 

MIAMI - Along with their destructive force, hurricanes can have beneficial
effects as part of the rhythm of nature. Storms that erode beaches, uproot
trees and flatten wildlife habitats may also refresh waterways, revive dry
areas and bulk up barrier islands with redistributed sand. 

"What we see is the damage it does to our structures, but it can actually
renew areas," said Karen Westphal, a coastal scientist at Louisiana State
University's School of the Coast and Environment. 

Hurricane Frances could help the Everglades, which is already undergoing a
$8.4 billion environmental restoration. 

"Hurricanes are a vital part of the natural process," said Nick Auman, an
aquatic ecologist at Everglades National Park. Hurricane Frances may serve
"as a flushing-out mechanism in areas of the Everglades where sediment has
accumulated on the bottom of waterways." 

Frances may help eliminate some invasive exotic plants in the area, such as
Australian pines, but also could end up helping others if high wind
disperses seeds to new places. 

However, human changes to the Everglades may prevent it from recovering from
flooding caused by the slow-moving hurricane, Auman said. "We've had so much
impact on the Everglades as human beings that we have hampered its ability
to bounce back from big events like this." 

The storm's changes also can affect animal life. 

Beach mice in Florida's Panhandle become easy targets for predators in
flattened areas. But new dunes might shield beaches from lights that confuse
sea turtles when they come ashore to lay eggs and their babies after
hatching, said Seth Blitch, a biologist who is the head of the Apalachicola
National Estuarine Research Reserve. 

Hurricane Charley, the biggest storm to hit Florida in more than a decade,
made significant changes to southwest Florida's beach landscape in August.
Charley sliced the barrier island of North Captiva in half, creating a new
inlet joining the Gulf of Mexico and Pine Island Sound. 

Charley's wind and rain also likely stirred up old debris and pollutants,
which could hurt the environment, said Hans Paerl, professor of marine and
environmental science at the University of North Carolina. 

"A lot has to do with the frequency of these hurricanes, too," he said. "If
you get three or four hurricanes right in a row, probably the second or
third are more beneficial because they bring in cleaner water" after
sediments and old debris are flushed out by the earlier storm. 

Frances' impact is yet to be determined, but Westphal said the environment
will be fine. 

"Nature will go back into a balance," she said. "It will just not be what
humans are used to. Humans don't like change. Nature doesn't mind, it just
balances itself out." 

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