A Hawaiian Island Disappeared Underwater After Hurricane

Oct 27, 2018

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A Hawaiian island vanished underwater earlier this month after Hurricane Walaka created a massive storm surge that swallowed the 11-acre sliver of land.

University of Hawaii climate scientist Chip Fletcher told told Honolulu Civil Beat he had “a holy s–t moment” when he realized the island had disappeared.

East Island, which belonged to the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument, was home to many species of endangered animals, including endangered Hawaiian monk seals and sea turtles. In fact, more than half of the threatened green sea turtles that nest in this atoll did so on East Island.

Charles Littnan, a conservation biologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) told the Honolulu Civil Beat “there’s no doubt” that East Island “was the most important single islet for sea turtle nesting.”

And according the video below, “experts are uncertain whether the island will return.”

Whale Skate Island, another former French Frigate Shoal islet, was completely submerged in a similar fashion back in the 1990s after decades of erosion. It has not returned.

The Category 5 storm, which had sustained winds of 160 miles per hour, is considered “one of the most intense hurricanes on record” to pummel the Pacific. At this time, there’s no word on what the outcome is for the animals who have been evicted from this crucial habitat. Fortunately, Littnan explained, Walaka struck at the tail end of breeding season, with just one monk seal and her pup and a small percent of turtle nests remaining on East Island.

As destructive as nature can be, a new islet recently emerged off the Big Island’s northern edge as a result of the eruption of Kilauea. Field crew from the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory discovered the miniature speck of land during a morning flyover, and reported that the island is only about 20 to 30 feet in diameter — so don’t expect to be booking a Hawaiian vacation there any time soon.

Featured photo courtesy of the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service

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