Hurricanes can destory the ecosystems of coast communities.
The lasting effects of a strong hurricane reach beyond damaged homes and human injuries. In many cases, these storms become tragic events. Rightfully so, media attention turns to the human casualties and the economic effects of the storm. When Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast of the United States, several agencies spent time investigating how a hurricane of that magnitude affects the plant life and wildlife in the path of the storm.
According to a report published by the National Council for Science and the Environment (NCSE), there are four major pieces of a storm which affect plant and animal life. They include tornadoes, strong winds, storm surges and rain. These weather elements have long reaching affects on everything from coastal wetlands to the fishing industry.
Coastal wetlands are one of the ecosystems most commonly damaged by a hurricane-level storm. Since hurricanes travel inland from the sea, coastal wetlands often lie within the path of the storm. According to the NCSE’s website, storm surge waters and strong winds are most damaging to the coast. Barrier islands are found of the coast of many coastal areas. Flood waters and strong winds can cause significant erosion to these islands and the coast line. Additionally, wetlands are home to seagrass beds. These beds are often important habitats for marine mammals, turtles and fish. When these beds are damaged, these animals often have no place to birth their young and nest. Additionally, aquatic birds often feed and rest in these wetlands on the annual migratory paths.
Marine forest lands are other plant ecosystems that are affected by hurricane damage. According to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), these forest lands often house some rather unique trees. The trees in marine forests, such as the mangrove trees of Florida, have adapted to life where the air is salty and the soil is sandy. Strong winds can fatally damage these trees and a strong storm has the potential to greatly reduce the numbers of some rare species. In some cases, damage to a marine forest may actually beneficial. USGS research determined that a hurricane occurring every 30 years on average may help destroy trees that already weak or diseased, helping healthy species survive and adapt.
Protected wildlife areas located in the path of a storm typically find themselves in danger. Wildlife refuges are typically home to some of a region’s endangered or threatened species. According to the NCSE, flood waters and strong winds have the potential to wipe out already endangered animal life. While wildlife habitats are able to protect the living and feeding grounds of animals from human destruction, these areas cannot prevent ecological destruction. Flood waters and rain can destroy wildlife, cause significant erosion and drown wildlife. Strong winds and tornadoes damage and destroy plant life, all of which can make it nearly impossible for threatened species to survive. NCSE’s report discovered that Hurricane Katrina specifically damaged the populations of Alabama beach mouse, Kemp’s ridley sea turtle and several types of wading birds.
In addition to destroying plants and erasing wildlife habitats, hurricanes can have a major impact on the fishing industries in affected areas. It is estimated that the United States’ Gulf Coast is home to one-fourth of the country’s fishing industry. Louisiana’s crab and oyster industries provide more than 350 million dollars to the state’s economy. Hurricanes have the potential to destroy crab habitats, oyster beds and the feeding areas of both these populations. In addition, flood waters can also bring raw sewage and untreated chemicals into the water, which may kill the animals themselves. As a result, fishing industries in hurricane eradicated areas often take a financial hit.