Ecosystems don’t like hurricanes any more than we do

With hurricane season approaching, scientists are voicing worries about the ability of coastal ecosystems to recover from repeated storms. Some 118 square miles of coastal wetlands were lost to Hurricane Katrina, and the Gulf Coast is vulnerable to more loss, as many islands that had acted as storm barriers are fragmented or submerged after two busy hurricane seasons. “It takes a long time for these dunes to re-establish naturally, so the next storm that comes along will have an easier job overtopping the islands and flooding inland areas,” says a U.S. Geological Survey oceanographer. One example of ecosystem disruption: Florida mangrove trees are suffocating under silt piled up by back-to-back hurricanes. Repeated storms “could eventually be the threshold that tips the bucket and leads freshwater systems to become brackish … and the whole system kind of collapses,” says USGS environmental scientist Thomas Doyle. Egad.