Scientists are concerned about what will happen to the hundreds of endangered species that once called East Island home.
Hurricane Walaka, one of the most powerful Pacific storms ever recorded, has erased an ecologically important remote northwestern island from the Hawaiian archipelago.
Using satellite imagery, federal scientists confirmed Monday that East Island, a critical habitat for endangered Hawaiian monk seals and green sea turtles, was almost entirely washed away earlier this month.
“I had a holy shit moment, thinking ‘Oh my God, it’s gone,’” said Chip Fletcher, a University of Hawaii climate scientist. “It’s one more chink in the wall of the network of ecosystem diversity on this planet that is being dismantled.”
Fletcher was doing research in July on East Island, which is part of French Frigate Shoals in Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument. He said he knew East Island would eventually be underwater; he just thought it would take another 100 years for rising seas to swallow it up.
Instead, a Category 4 hurricane eliminated it overnight. The hurricane’s pathway wasn’t a function of climate change, he said, but its strength and timing were consistent with the effects of a warming ocean and rising global temperatures that make storms more intense and frequent.
And part of the island’s demise was just bad luck, Fletcher said, describing the […]