Piping plovers migrate from Long Island, N.Y., to the Bahamas in the fall, and Hurricane Florence could interfere with this long voyage. Photo: Tom Vezo / Minden Pictures / National Geographic Creative

By Jason Bittel
12 September 2018

(National Geographic) – Evacuations are already underway in North and South Carolina in anticipation of Hurricane Florence’s arrival this weekend. But what happens to the wild animals that aren’t set up for text alerts?

Experience suggests it won’t be pretty, and stories abound from storms past. For example, in August of 2017, Hurricane Harvey nearly wiped out the last remaining population of wild Attwater’s prairie chickens in Texas. Two months later, Hurricane Irma killed off up to 22 percent of the remaining population of endangered Key deer in the Florida Keys.

And though it didn’t threaten specific species in the same way, Hurricane Matthew did drop a Cyprus tree smack dab on top of an American alligator when it ripped across Georgia in 2016.

With Florence now classified as a Category 4 hurricane, it seems likely that the Eastern Seaboard and its animals could be in for a rough couple of days. (Read: “Why Hurricane Florence Is Such a Dangerous Storm”)

For instance, while it’s getting to the end of the season, some loggerhead sea turtles still have eggs out there waiting to hatch.

“Beaches are a dynamic system but large storms do have the potential to cause problems for nests and hatchlings,” says David Steen, a research ecologist at the Georgia Sea Turtle Center.

“Submerging nests for a prolonged period of time will reduce their survival, and some storms may even have the potential to just wash them away.”

Besides storm surges and dangerous waves, Hurricane Florence’s winds will likely take a toll on numerous migratory species on their way through the area. (Read: “Why Some Bird Species Have It Worse After the Latest Hurricanes”)

“Right now, every night, we’ve got thousands of thrushes and warblers flying out over the Atlantic and some of them are going to get blown by this and end up exhausting themselves,” says Daniel Cristol, an ornithologist at the College of William & Mary.

Migratory birds are able to complete their epic journeys while living on a knife’s-edge of calories in and out. So if a storm knocks them off course by a day or more, they may not have the fat reserves to make up the loss.

“Habitat loss is biggest risk for birds of conservation concern, especially migratory species that need refueling locations to complete the journey,” says Gary Langham, vice president and chief scientist at the National Audubon Society. [more]

How Hurricane Florence May Affect Wildlife



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