Hawaii's East Island has been lost thanks to a hurricane, leaving multiple endangered species without their natural nesting grounds. There's little doubt that hurricanes can cause massive damage - although most people are concerned about how the storms impact human beings. Some of the worst hurricanes on record have devastated towns and cities in recent years, leaving many people without homes, but this isn't the only impact that hurricanes can have.
The storms can also cause huge damage to natural areas, especially when it comes to smaller islands and atolls. The waters around Hawaii are known for their wide range of wildlife, including many endangered species, and a recent storm has now completely destroyed one small island - and this loss will have a massive impact on more than one endangered species in the area.
Hurricane Walaka passed over the French Frigate Shoals, a series of small islands around 800 kilometers north-west of Honolulu, earlier this month - and when the storms cleared, East Island was discovered to be completely submerged. East Island was part of a protected marine area, and the eleven acres of gravel and sand was an important nesting ground for green sea turtles as well as endangered monk seals.
There are only 1,400 monk seals left, and East Island was a key location for them to raise their young. Chip Fletcher, a professor of earth sciences at the University of Hawaii has also said that around 96% of the green sea turtles here use the atoll as a nesting ground, and about half of those used East Island. Albatrosses also depended on the island in order to protect and raise their young, and Fletcher (who was doing research on the island) also expressed dismay at how quickly this vital island has disappeared:
We wanted to monitor the island so we are disappointed it has gone, but on the other hand we have learned these islands are far more at risk than we thought. I thought the island would be around for a decade or two longer, but it’s far more fragile than I appreciated. The loss is a huge blow. Little did we know it could disappear so quickly.
Federal managers of the Papahānaumokuākea marine national monument, where the island was located, have released a statement to say that the island and the species that used it are being monitored to assess the impact of the hurricane, with the intention of taking any necessary steps to try and protect these endangered species.