A Storm Just Wiped an Entire Hawaiian Island Off the Map


Photos of East Island taken in May before the hurricane show the pristine 4.5-hectare sand and gravel spit.

Scientists have confirmed the disappearance of the 11-acre island after comparing satellite images of the surrounding French Frigate Shoals, part of an enormous protected marine area in the north-western Hawaiian Islands.

Marine debris teams were dispatched to assess the damage this week after a tiny, remote Hawaiian island was largely wiped off the map when a raging hurricane passed through, officials said. Each year about 200 of the seals visit East Island, and about 30 seals have their pups there, Littnan estimated, noting that there are only about 1,400 of the animals in the world. While the islet is small - only about a kilometre long, and 120 metres wide - it is a critical habitat for the Hawaiian monk seal, Hawaiin green sea turtle, and several species of seabirds.

Service of protection of fish resources and wildlife, the USA released satellite photos of Hawaiian Islands before the storm "Balak" in the Pacific ocean and beyond.

"I had a holy [expletive] moment, thinking 'Oh my God, it's gone, '" Fletcher told the Honolulu Civil Beat.

The low-lying island, with its sandy composition, wasn't much of a match for the storm in early October, which started off as a Category 5 hurricane and created large storm swells, Clark said. Fletcher added that it's another issue "in the wall of the network of ecosystem diversity on this planet that is being dismantled". Most of the turtles had already left the island by the time the storm hit.

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Many of them raised their young on the island.

"Without a doubt it was the most important nesting site for green sea turtles", Charles Littnan, a biologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries Hawaiian Monk Seal Research Program, told NPR.

But it is possible that East Island will resurface and the turtles and seals will return to their seasonal homes.

In the right conditions, an atoll like French Frigate Shoals is always at risk when a hurricane hits.

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

The scientists were in the middle of researching the island, using drones and sand samples to estimate how much longer it could survive due to climate change.