Hurricane largely wipes out tiny Hawaiian island


This aerial photo shows the Hawaii East Island before the hurricane hit.

But the area that served as a home for these animals is almost gone, with only bits of sand still proving it ever existed.

Clark, the NOAA superintendent for the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument, which includes the French Frigate Shoals, said no one immediately realized the island had largely disappeared because it is so remote.

Hurricane Walaka was second category 5 hurricane of the year east of the International Date Line, following after August's Hurricane Lane, which brought significant damage to parts of the larger Hawaiian Island chain.

"It's a really powerful example of the power and potential of nature that overnight an island was washed away", Littnan said.

East Island is seen above, nearly completely underwater.

Dr. Chip Fletcher, who captured the drone footage of the island seen in the video at the top of the page, said that it was a critical habitat for green sea turtles, monk seals, and seabirds.

According to researchers, the disappearance of the whole island does not go unnoticed - coming serious consequences.

Using research monitors, experts were able to track different satellite images to study the impacts of the hurricane.

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"I had a 'holy cow!' moment, somewhat in disbelief that it had disappeared", said Chip Fletcher, a professor of earth sciences at the University of Hawaii.

"It's one more chink in the wall of the network of ecosystem diversity on this planet that is being dismantled".

About 96 per cent of the world's Hawaiian green sea turtles live in the French Frigate Shoals, and around half of those were on East Island. Threatened green sea turtles and albatrosses also depended on East Island for survival.

If conditions align, an atoll would always be at a small risk of being erased by a powerful hurricane.

Thankfully the turtles had already left the area for the season, so weren't hit by the storm, but may face trouble when they return.

The vanishing of more islands in the near future is possible - though scientists can not say climate change causes hurricanes, scientific evidence shows that storms are stronger and wetter because of climate change.

"The take-home message is climate change is real and it's happening now", concluded Kosaki.

Charles Littnan, a conservation biologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, told Honolulu Civil Beat that "species are resilient to a point", and while they may find new breeding ground, "there could be a point in the future where that resilience isn't enough".