How do hurricanes affect wildlife?

Animals, their habitats can be impacted by hurricanes

By Erin Dobzryn - Producer

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Emergency officials have issued evacuation orders ahead of Hurricane Dorian, and many people have left Central Florida to avoid the storm.

But what happens to the wildlife that can’t leave? 

What happens to the ecosystems that are battered by the harsh elements? 

Water and wind typically cause the most damage to habitats. Researchers at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences uses seven categories to describe the effects of hurricanes on wildlife:

  1. Wind and waves can damage and break coral, causing it to wash ashore, disrupting marine ecosystems. Fish and other benthic, or bottom dwelling, organisms can be injured or displaced.
  2. Sand dunes can be toppled by water and waves, dislodging plants that help stabilize the mounds, displacing nesting birds and their nests.
  3. Storm surge from the ocean can enter freshwater areas, causing additional flooding and imbalances in salinity. This can create brackish conditions, and can be harmful to plants and animals who survive in freshwater.
  4. Rain can cause freshwater flooding, leading to decreased salinity in smaller bodies of saltwater. This flooding can subject saltwater species to freshwater conditions.
  5. Entire coastal habitats can be greatly impacted by increased turbidity, or water cloudiness, from pollution and sediment runoff. 
  6. Migratory and sea birds can get caught in hurricane force winds and become dislocated from their typical habitats. 
  7. Hurricanes can cause tree loss, and if enough damage is done, many nesting sites and food sources for birds and mammals are destroyed. 

Even if animals are able to escape injury from a hurricane, they are often forced into environments they are not used to, becoming disoriented.

You can find a list of ways to report sick or injured wildlife here.

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