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The Latest from the Caribbean and Florida: Hurricane Irma’s Impact

Updates from the field as Audubon staff and partners prepare for, or start to recover from, the effects of Hurricane Irma

[Ed. Note: We will be updating this story as we get more information from staff, partners, and volunteers in the Caribbean, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina.]

Update: September 22, 2017, 10:55 EDT

Audubon Florida reports that all 44 nests of the Everglade Snail Kite around Lake Okeechobee were lost during Hurricane Irma. Because only 130 pairs of Everglade Snail Kites even attempted nesting this year, the loss is a devastating blow to an already poor breeding season for the bird. Read the full story here

Additionally, Audubon Florida's executive director Eric Draper described the affects of Irma on Florida on public radio station WUSF. Listen to Eric's interview here.

Update: September 19, 2017, 10:04 EDT

From Audubon Florida

Audubon Florida has posted an update to their website with a roundup of what they know so far of Hurricane Irma's impact across the state. An excerpt:

"We don’t have a full picture of Hurricane Irma’s environmental damage to our state yet. But we know birds and other wildlife and their native habitats are resilient in the face of natural disasters. Human activity clearly compounds the negative impacts. We have assigned our science and research staff to report on the 140 sites that Audubon Florida manages, and we are collecting information from others. Here is part of what we know:

  • 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.

Read the full update here.

Update: September 14, 2017, 10:00 EDT

From Audubon Florida

Volunteers and staff at Audubon’s Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary are making good progress. We’ve still been unable to access the entire 13,000-acre sanctuary site, but we’re working to make progress on the most important areas. The Blair Audubon Center building sheltered Audubon staff, families and even first responders during the storm, and it remains structurally intact. Hard-working volunteers and staff have been working in the daylight hours to recover from the damage caused by Irma. Many staff and volunteers are without power and communications at their own homes, and there is no power, communications or cell service out at the sanctuary. The hot Naples, Florida sun beats down on these folks every day, and we’re so thankful to have their support in getting the center back on its feet.

Audubon Center for Birds of Prey was able to get completely cleaned up today. WOW! In fact, we’re reopening tomorrow. We still don’t have power but the birds don’t need A/C. Guests can pay for the admission fees via cash or check (until our power and internet are fully restored), and the birds are eager to see friendly faces again.

Lastly, we’re starting to get reports of rare Atlantic and Caribbean birds being spotted across the state. We’ve started collecting photos and stories at FLConservation@Audubon.org. We’ll be doing FB posts and website posts about these.

Also, here’s a read about how beach dunes did better than seawalls during Hurricane Matthew. http://fl.audubon.org/news/hurricane-matthew-assessment-beach-dunes-better-seawalls

 

Update: September 13, 2017, 10:50 EDT

From Audubon’s Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary 

Staff and volunteers have begun cleanup at Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary. Oak, pine, and cypress trees all came down during Hurricane Irma, damaging the boardwalk and littering the area with debis. According to reports, most buildings avoided major damage from falling trees. 

On the left: Some cypress trees came down, damaging railings. On the right: The Bunting House doesn't have electricity anywhere at the moment and just the rails are damaged. Photos: Courtesy of Audubon's Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary

Update: September 12, 2017, 15:29 EDT 

From Florida’s Audubon Center for Birds of Prey  

According to a recent post on the center’s Facebook page, it is currently without power and closed to the public while volunteers and staffers remove debris and fallen trees from the poperty. But “all the buildings, enclosures and most importantly birds, are just fine.” More updates will be provided via Facebook.

One of the downed trees at the Audubon Center for Birds of Prey, which is currently closed for cleanup after Hurricane Irma. Photo: Courtesy of Audubon Center for Birds of Prey

Update: September 12, 2017, 13:16 EDT

From The Bahamas

Eric Carey, executive director of Bahamas National Trust, writes:

“[W]e have not had any reports of any damage to BNT properties across the archipelago, although the Exuma Park Staff are only headed bank there today. But based on reports from Council Member Kevin Cartwright on nearby Highbourne Cay in the Exuma Cays, the infrastructure of the park should not likely have suffered any significant damage. [...]

Andros staff report that they had minimal impacts and that there is no damage to the infrastructure. 

Inagua warden Casper Burrows has reported since just after the storm that he has seen small flocks of flamingos near town and a few parrots. The dike roads remain impassable so he has not been able to get out to the Camp or Union Creek to assess damage. Warden Henry Nixon is expected to return to the island this week, having evacuated with his family. Once Henry returns, it is anticipated that they will do a more comprehensive assessment.  

As many if you are aware, a large portion of the Inagua national park is inaccessible wilderness areas. In discussions with Casper, he noted that they really do not have any accurate idea of what the true impact on the flamingos has been, because so much of their habitat is inaccessible.”

 

Update: September 11, 2017, 21:07 EDT

From Audubon’s Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary 

Audubon’s Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary in Naples, Florida, has suffered damage from Hurricane Irma and will be closed until further notice. According to a post on its website, “initial reports indicate that several trees have fallen on some facilities, power lines and several sections of the iconic boardwalk.” The sanctuary is expected to remain closed for at least two weeks while repairs are made.  

Update: September 8, 2017, 15:47 EDT

From Audubon Florida 

Areas of concern: As Hurricane Irma approaches, threatening to bring storm surges and a deluge of rain, below are three major areas of concern in Florida for people and birds. Hover over the map to see each area of concern and read more

Update: September 8, 2017, 13:21 EDT

The Audubon Center for Birds of Prey in Maitland, Florida, is now also closed. 

September 8, 2017, 08:46 EDT

Hurricane Irma, currently a Category 4 storm on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale, contines to churn its way through the Atlantic and the Caribbean on its way toward landfall in Florida. Audubon works in many of the areas that have been, or will be, affected by Irma. As we get updates from partner organizations such as the Bahamas National Trust, and from our own state offices and chapters, we will post them here. 

From Audubon Florida

A recent update from Audubon Florida staff: 

“Hurricane Irma poses a serious threat to Floridians and birds alike, and Audubon Florida is closely monitoring the storm. We encourage all chapter leaders to pay close attention to local officials and FloridaDisaster.org for the most up-to-date information on Hurricane Irma.

Audubon’s policy office in Tallahassee is keeping in contact with the Audubon Florida team statewide. Many staff have already evacuated or are sheltered in place with shutters.

Audubon Florida has closed several of our locations that face a direct threat from Hurricane Irma, including our headquarters in Miami, Audubon’s Everglades Science Center in the Florida Keys, Audubon’s Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary in Naples, and our Lake Okeechobee office in Lorida. We post office and nature center closures here.

The Audubon Center for Birds of Prey in Maitland remains open and has emergency plans in place to protect the birds and property. The Tampa office also is monitoring conditions and is prepared to close if necessary. All Audubon boats, trucks, and ATVs have been secured, and many staff are working from home. Tallahassee’s policy office remains open.

We at Audubon are preparing for the worst while hoping for the best...for our birds, our state and you. Please stay safe, and best wishes from Audubon Florida’s family to yours.”

American lotus blooms brace for impact as a summer squall races across Lake Okeechobee in Florida, the seventh largest lake in the United States. Photo: Mac Stone

From the Bahamas

Word from the Bahamas, via Audubon's International Alliances Program deputy director Matt Jeffery, is that the island of Grand Inagua has been evacuated, although some residents and one Bahamas National Trust warden stayed on the island. No word on the status of the other islands, including the largest island in the country, Andros. Last fall, Andros and nearby Joulter Cays were hit hard by Hurricane Matthew.

A building that was damaged as Hurricane Matthew swept through Andros, The Bahamas, in 2016. Many Bahamians lost their homes during the storm. Photo: Camilla Cerea/Audubon

 

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