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Posted: 2018-10-23 16:14:18

A powerful hurricane in the eastern Pacific washed away an 11-acre island in the French Frigate Shoals, part of a national monument in the remote northwestern Hawaiian Islands.

Approximately a half mile long and 400 feet wide, East Island was the second-largest islet in French Frigate Shoals ― an atoll some 550 miles northwest of Honolulu ― and a key habitat for the critically endangered Hawaiian monk seal, the threatened Hawaiian green sea turtle and several species of seabirds.

The island’s dramatic vanishing act was first reported by Honolulu Civil Beat and confirmed by HuffPost. Satellite images distributed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service show the spit of white sand almost entirely erased, scattered out onto the reef to the north. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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East Island was destroyed by storm surge from Hurricane Walaka, which roared through the northwestern Hawaiian Islands as a powerful Category 3 storm this month. Seven researchers, including three studying green sea turtles on East Island, were forced to evacuate from French Frigate Shoals before the storm.

Charles Littnan, the director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s protected species division, told HuffPost it will likely take years to understand what the island’s loss means for these imperiled species.

The biggest concern, he said, is the persistent loss of habitat, which has been identified as a significant threat to monk seals and green sea turtles. Nearby Trig Island was also lost beneath the surface this year, not because of a storm but from high wave activity. 

“These small, sandy islets are going to really struggle to persist” in a warming world with rising seas, Littnan said. “This event is confronting us with what the future could look like.”

French Frigate Shoals is the nesting ground for 96 percent of the Hawaiian green sea turtle population, and approximately half lay their

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