If you live in Florida or anywhere else along the Gulf Coast or Atlantic Coast, then you know that the peak of hurricane season is upon us. From August to Early October hurricane season reaches its climax. Sometimes that does not matter, though. The year 2016’s first hurricane was Alex back in mid-January. Most of us along the coastline also know about the effects that these hurricanes have on us, but what about coral reefs? There is a lot of data that has been collected over the years but no one has really put it all together for one solid conclusion. So how do hurricanes affect coral reefs?

hurricanes, storm surge

Picture credit to www.floridalightning.com

Hurricanes; A Help Or A Hinderance?

The fact is that there are both positive and negative effects of hurricanes on coral reefs. There are a lot of factors to consider with hurricanes that affect coral reefs such as strength and size of the storm. The health of the coral reefs being impacted is another factor. When Hurricane George hit the Florida Keys a few years back there were people saying that it did some good by clearing out dead coral and other decaying sea life. However, it also killed off a great deal of coral and sea life in the coral reefs it affected.

With that said, opinions really vary on how such storms affect marine life in coral reefs. What really varies though is the strength of the storm itself. If it is just a weak tropical storm passing over a coral reef, the damage will likely be minimal. Such an event may very well be a good thing for the coral reefs. However, hurricanes are just about always bad news as you would expect. Category one hurricanes can still have enough positive effect to not be considered catastrophic. Stronger hurricanes can and will destroy entire coral reefs.

There is good news to a catastrophic loss, though. It may sound odd, but the destruction that powerful hurricanes render can also create new coral reefs. Sometimes parts of destroyed coral reefs will move to a new area and resettle there. Other times, such as the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935 the destruction of old bridges and land structures are swept into the sea and become brand new coral reefs. Destruction really does breed new life as it turns out. This is a common part of nature to destroy structures we’ve built and put them into the ocean. Old bridges are often demolished by us and left as artificial reefs.

Hurricane, storm surge

picture credit to www.srh.noaa.gov

The Areas Most Commonly Impacted

Of course, there are places where coral reefs are commonly impacted by hurricanes and tropical storms. The coral reefs in the Florida Keys might as well be a person with a huge target painted on their back. Coral Reefs in the Carribean have it even worse. Honestly, there are very few places that reefs are not commonly affected by storms and hurricanes. Some do not get it as bad as others, though. Bermuda is often impacted by strong Atlantic storms but rarely is directly hit by one. So the coral reefs around Bermuda are likewise not generally hit directly by them.

This does not always hold true, though as just this year Hurricane Alex actually made landfall in the Azores in the northern Atlantic. The coral reefs were and still are beautiful. Thankfully, Hurricane Alex was only a category one. So damage to the reefs and the structures on land was still fairly minimal oppose to say a category three hurricane. It’s still extremely abnormal to have a hurricane actually make landfall in the Azores. It was also really weird to have a hurricane in the Atlantic Ocean in January. This was the first time this happened in sixty-one years!

This was a special circumstance, though. Alex originally was a non-tropical low that developed along a cold front in the United States. It moved off the eastern seaboard and into the far out Atlantic before becoming a tropical low and eventually a hurricane. Stranger things have happened. Like when Hurricane Wilma interacted with a cold front in 2006 while making landfall in southern Florida. The storm not only strengthened but blew in much cooler air from behind the cold front.

See It For Yourself

Now it probably wouldn’t be a good idea to go out scuba diving during these hurricanes and it wouldn’t be immediately afterward either. However, once it is safe to do so after the storm has stopped churning the ocean waters, then you can go out and view the destruction yourself. You can see where old coral has settled and where new coral will form. It would actually be quite interested to view it a couple of times over several months to see how it is progressing. It is always intriguing to see how mother nature heals herself after such an event.

You never know what you may discover or get to witness happen first hand. This hurricane season hasn’t even ended yet, and a couple of storms such as Hurricane Alex have greatly affected areas with coral reefs already. If you have the dime and the time to do it then you absolutely should. A few of us wouldn’t mind pictures either. There really aren’t many out there from such events. You may even gain some recognition for it.

So What Is The Conclusion?

Well, it is safe to say that hurricanes have both positive and negative impacts on our coral reefs. Sometimes the bad far outweighs the bad but in the end, all you can do is let mother nature take its course during the storm. There are reef building projects out there that help keep these important marine habitats going. This is of course on top of nature’s own way of doing it. The fact remains that we can’t stop hurricanes from happening or damaging reefs. In the end, it is just a matter of doing what we can and accepting the good with the bad.