Weeks after the strongest hurricane to hit The Bahamas wrecked havoc throughout Abaco and Grand Bahama, the Bahamas Reef Environment Educational Foundation (BREEF) is conducting a study into how reefs and the marine environment surrounding those islands were impacted.
Casuarina McKinney-Lambert, who is the executive director of BREEF, said although coral reefs are resilient, because of the severity of Hurricane Dorian – which packed winds upwards of 200 miles per hour – a thorough examination of areas is needed.
“The marine environment including reefs and mangroves are also impacted when we have a severe event like this. We focus on damage to humans and all of that aspect, but the marine environment and also our natural environment in general is heavily impacted when we have a storm,” she said.
“Coral reefs are resilient ecosystems, they are able to in general come back from events, but this has been a particularly extreme one and so we’re concerned about the impacts to the reefs.”
While the influence of hurricanes on coral reefs can be beneficial, they can also be detrimental, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
Whereas small hurricanes provide fast relief during periods of thermal stress, waves from large hurricanes can reduce a reef to rubble and given the sharp climate changes over the years, NOAA pointed out that the ability of corals to recover from severe storms, while facing the combined effects of increasing thermal stress and ocean acidification, could be extinguished.
“In particular, because these ecosystems are absolutely essential for protecting human life, they are our first and second lines of defense, so we are particularly concerned and we do intend to do assessments of the status post-Dorian,” McKinney-Lambert said.
When asked about the possibility of using the estimated 1.5 billion pounds of debris that needs to be cleaned from Marsh Harbour to rebuild potentially damaged reefs, the environmentalist said it’s too risky:
“BREEF has built the coral reef sculpture garden that’s off the west coast of New Providence, which is an artificial reef and we used pH neutral concrete and are very careful with whatever we put into the water, so I would be wary of doing that.”