Hurricane Irma wreaked havoc not only on people and buildings, but on nature. Birds were pushed by the winds from the Caribbean into Florida, and the Category 3 storm washed away beaches and bird habitat in the Everglades and Florida Keys. WUSF's Steve Newborn talks with Eric Draper, executive director of Audubon Florida, about Irma's impact.
Here's some of the impacts outlined by Audubon Florida:
- Many birds were displaced by the storm - birds from the Atlantic and the Caribbean were carried to our shores by Hurricane Irma and are being spotted around the state;
- The upland habitats of Southeast Florida and the Keys were stripped bare of foliage in some places and toppled in others. These areas are usually a crucial food source for the Atlantic Flyway’s fall bird migrants, who rest and feed here en route to the Caribbean and Latin America;
- Water levels in America’s Everglades are dangerously high and a massive seagrass die-off has been spotted in Florida Bay;
- Some coastal islands and beaches are impacted by erosion;
- Erosion and windfalls also damaged tree islands and mature hammocks in some places;
- Wastewater systems overwhelmed by the storm resulted in sewage spills in some communities, and some waterways and beaches are closed;
- Polluted water entering Lake Okeechobee from the north and the south is quickly raising lake levels dangerously high. In an attempt to reduce lake levels, some of this polluted water is being discharged to coastal estuaries to the east coast of the state; and most coastal nesting birds had already fledged their chicks, but it's likely some flightless baby birds drowned with the extreme storm surge.
All of the Snail Kite nests on Lake Okeechobee were lost. The Snail Kite is an endangered raptor that is unique to Florida.