Remote Hawaiian Island Completely Wiped Out By Hurricane, Losing Critical Home For Endangered Species

Melissa Binns - Author

Oct. 23 2018, Updated 5:51 p.m. ET

A Hawaiian island was almost completely washed away by Hurricane Walaka, Civil Beat is reporting. Federal scientists were able to confirm on Monday, October 22, via satellite images that East Island is gone. East Island was one of the northwestern Hawaiian islands and even had a U.S. Coast Guard radar station until 1952. Many animals, such as Hawaiian monk seals and green sea turtles, called it home.

Chip Fletcher, a climate scientist at the University of Hawaii, said he was aware that East Island would likely eventually be swallowed up by rising sea levels, but predicted that it would happen sometime within the next couple of decades. The satellite images, however, showed that the island was destroyed within a day.

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“I had a holy s**t moment, thinking ‘Oh my God, it’s gone,'” said Fletcher. “It’s one more chink in the wall of the network of ecosystem diversity on this planet that is being dismantled.”

Fletcher pointed out that the power and timing of the Category 4 hurricane could very well be attributed to the effects of climate change, such as the ocean becoming warmer and rising global temperatures in general. Scientists have proved that global warming results in stronger storms, and Fletcher feels that may have been the case for Hurricane Walaka.

Fletcher did acknowledge, however, that East Island’s destruction can also be just up to chance, as the sharp turn the storm took directly toward East Island could not be helped. A marine debris team is prepared to travel to the location later in the week, but the state and federal managers of the island have yet to get a full understanding of the damage. While the marine team can discover some information, the full amount of devastation will not be known until the managers can assess.

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Ninety-six percent of green sea turtles, which are already officially classified as an endangered species, have their nests in French Frigate Shoals. East Island is — or was — a home for over half of the struggling population. In addition, about one-seventh of Hawaiian Monk Seals — also endangered — were born on the island. Charles Littnan, a conservation biologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, believes that the island was significant when it came to the birth of these animals.

“There’s no doubt that it was the most important single islet for sea turtle nesting,” he said.

Fortunately, Littnan says that most of the turtles had probably left the island for the season before the storm hit. The turtles are known to travel to the main Hawaiian Islands after breeding and nesting on East Island. As for the monk seals who also used the island as their breeding ground, they have been known to weather many powerful storms before.

“Species are resilient up to a point,” Littnan said. “But there could be a point in the future where that resilience isn’t enough anymore.”


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