Hurricanes & Aquatic Habitat: What’s the Impact?
If you live in a region prone to violent storms, such as hurricanes, we commend you. The full wrath of mother nature is not a force to be reckoned with, especially around aquatic habitats.
Hurricanes & Aquatic Habitat
As we all know, hurricanes are dangerous and destructive. After the storm passes, the evident damage is visible everywhere: houses and buildings destroyed, trees down, humans missing and flood waters raging.
Its a nightmare, really.
So what about the water? What story is unfolding in those precious aquatic ecosystems after hurricanes hit?
Let us start off by noting, nature is unbelievably resilient. Surviving, adapting, dying and regrowing. Rinse and repeat. The cycle continues.
But throw in 74 mph winds, cyclones, flooding, storm surges, and huge waves–what do you think happens to aquatic habitat?
All hell breaks loose.
Flooding and storm surges are the two worst catalysts of hurricane damage on aquatic habitat.
- When seawater surges, salt water enters bays, wetlands, and estuaries. Freshwater species including fish and plants (depending on their adaptability) suffer as a result of higher saline. Without time to gradually adapt to the increasing levels, most species die. The process is the same when freshwater floods into the sea. Species adapted to high saline cannot survive within their new aquatic habitat.
- If an invasive species has been locally contained, hurricane flooding can quickly spread the organism through floodwaters.
- Animals are often killed, stranded, or flooded out of their destroyed habitat.
- During hurricanes Harvey and Irma, flooding overwhelmed wastewater treatment centers which caused sewage, chemicals, and bacteria to mix with city water and aquatic preserves.
- Additionally, older government buildings (used to store and clean-up toxic waste containing carcinogens) flooded during Harvey. And with that, all containment flowed into the water.
- With high winds and flooding, waterways fill with trash, tree branches, leaves, and other debris. When aquatic habitats remain uncleared, floodwaters stagnate and debris decomposes, decreases oxygen in the water. The resulting aquatic habitat will choke plant and fish populations.
- Although most hurricane effects are harmful, there are a few beneficial consequences. Flooding and storm surge uncovers fresher, nutrient-rich sediment while displacing the older sediment. This creates a clean slate for new aquatic habitats to thrive.
- One breach from Hurricane Sandy on New York’s Fire Island is seen as a blessing. The inlet (previously polluted with nitrate infested water and other unhealthy bacteria) received new life when Sandy flushed out the old stagnation, and replaced it with clean ocean water.
We started off claiming nature is resilient. And despite the immense damage that comes with hurricanes, nature still is. It typically takes less than 5 years for aquatic habitats to reach the status they were before the disaster. Fish return and populate the water, plants regrow and spread roots in the water, old debris decomposes and becomes rich soil. It learns to adapt and survive, to keep reaching for the sun.
Maybe we could learn a thing or two from hurricanes, after all.