With the multitude of hurricanes the Atlantic has been experiencing lately, one has to wonder how the rash of storms affects the animal population as the human population digs itself out of the destruction. With many people displaced from their homes, the situation can be devastating for thousands along the coastlines, including endangered and non-endangered animals alike. Flooding and washout can destroy native plant species as well, which can also affect the animal species in the areas of shelter and food.
Ways Storms Damage
When a hurricane or tropical storm blasts through, it can cause widespread multifaceted destruction. Since storms build up over the ocean, they can affect every area—land, air, and water. Marine life and waterfowl can be affected in addition to the obvious areas on the coastline. Each element of destruction has a domino effect, as everything is tied together in nature; animal and plant destruction affects humans as well, and the cycle continues with each storm.
Some of the areas and ways in which hurricanes cause destruction and displacement:
- Marine species
- Wind dislocation
- Sediment transfer
When trees are uprooted and downed, many animals lose their homes; many trees provide food for animals as well as shelter. Marine life can be affected by the sheer impact of a hurricane, as well as by freshwater and saltwater showing up in places they shouldn’t. Saltwater animals cannot survive in a freshwater environment and vice versa. Beach habitats can be destroyed as well when coastlines are eroded or blasted with heavy wind and rain. Animals such as sea turtles that live on the beach can lose their nests and homes, and birds can be easily displaced. Strong winds can blow birds off course or separate single birds from their flocks, causing them to be lost and have a much harder time surviving on their own. The sediments brought up by the heavy wind and rain can poison native species in certain areas, bringing pollutants or other substances. Sometimes just the extra soil can cause devastating problems with plants and animals alike.
When a hurricane hits, habitat displacement is the biggest concern for all species, including humans. But there are many things to take into account in the aftermath of a storm, and the potential lack of fresh water is one. While many animals will survive, they may find it difficult to find fresh water to drink and food to eat, since their surroundings have been disrupted. Also, storms can bring in invasive species from other areas, causing more trouble for the native species. If invasive species take over an area, animals will have to move on in order to feed. Habitat displacement is another thing that has a domino effect on surroundings, forcing many species to find new homes and fresh water sources.
Effects on Endangered Species
For the many animals on the endangered and threatened species lists, hurricane damage can be disastrous. If a species is close to extinction already, a hurricane can push it over the edge. Habitats that are already shrinking can be decimated, and the combination of the effects and aftereffects of the storm is difficult at best. And while some species can sense an impending storm, others may not flee quickly enough or may get caught in the storm’s eye. If that happens, there is essentially no escape, and animals just have to try to ride out the storm.
While storm devastation is rough for any species, the effects on threatened and endangered plants and animals are especially dangerous due to their already declining numbers. Each storm causes millions of dollars’ worth of damage, and unfortunately, helping endangered species requires further cost. Any donation to wildlife rescue organizations is put to good use, as well as post-hurricane donations.
Species That Survive
While most species struggle to survive during a hurricane, the good news is that some species not only can survive a storm but use the effects of the storm to their advantage. For example, raccoons enjoy scavenging through the destruction after a hurricane to find food, and certain types of frogs and toads breed well in drastic rainfall. Orchids fertilize the ground with the blustery winds of a storm, spreading seeds further to repopulate, and bears and some ground birds can find increased shelter when brush and trees are blown around and pile up. And since storm landfall can be predicted relatively well with today’s technology, animal shelters and organizations are able to prepare somewhat for oncoming storms and their aftermath, gathering supplies to help animals survive.
However, for most animals, surviving a hurricane or tropical storm is a crapshoot. While storm landfall can be predicted with radar, it is unknown just how a hurricane will affect a coastline until it actually hits. When animal habitats are destroyed and the animals have nowhere to go, the chances of their survival decrease drastically. The red-cockaded woodpecker, for example, nests in mature pine forests. Their specific nesting site is difficult to reproduce once a storm wreaks havoc, and since the bird is already on the endangered species list, hurricanes make their survival chances that much slimmer.
What Can You Do to Help?
In addition to monetary donations, there are a couple things you can do to help if you are in an area that experiences severe storms. If you are in the potential path of a hurricane, the best thing you can do is to keep yourself and your family safe. You can’t help anyone else if you are in danger yourself. Once the storm has passed and you are safe, you can help wildlife organizations by keeping your eyes open for rare species that may have been displaced or need help. Also keeping a lookout for injured animals and alerting wildlife rescues can have an impact. While you may not know it immediately, you may be helping save an animal from extinction.
The Pegasus Foundation exists to protect and support animal welfare through grants and education, partnering with non-profit organizations to share resources, educate the public, and facilitate communication. For more information, please contact the Pegasus Foundation directly.