After Irma, What Happened to the Wildlife & How Can You Help?

HUMANS CAN BOARD UP THEIR HOMES AND EVACUATE, BUT WHAT HAPPENS TO WILDLIFE? THE ONLY HABITAT LEFT FOR THE FLORIDA PANTHER AND OTHER ENDANGERED AND THREATENED SPECIES WERE RIGHT IN IRMA'S PATH. IMAGE COURTESY OF TOD DAHLKE, TOUR THE GLADES.  

What happens to the animals during – then after - the storm? While we heed (or not) calls to evacuate in the face of impending 150+ mph (240 kph) winds and storm surge flooding, how does the wildlife prepare? The answer is instinct.

Afterward, when the winds finally die, and we humans hope for help from FEMA, insurance companies, and Home Depot to rebuild, where do the panther or the key deer or the roseate spoonbill, or the remaining Florida panther turn? 

Reports on wildlife are slow to come. The reporters, park rangers, biologists, and wildlife volunteers are all recovering themselves. Some places are still impassable and dangerous for humans. For now, nature is taking its course, mostly alone. The unfortunate truth is, in the Everglades, that course is no longer clear due to the effects of 100 years of human interference.

This is what we have been able to find out: 

The Florida Reef Tract

Southwestern Florida's First Defense Against Hurricane & Storm  Surge

This is third largest coral reef system in the world, stretching from the Dry Tortugas (southern end of Florida Keys) to the area of West Palm Beach on the Atlantic side and, theoretically, should have helped to buffer the storm’s effects.

LIVE CORAL IS INSTRUMENTAL IN BUFFERING AGAINST STORM SURGE. IMAGE: COURTESY OF NOAA, NATIONAL OCEANIC & ATMOSPHERIC ADMINISTRATION.  

BLEACHED & DYING CORAL, THE FLORIDA NATIONAL MARINE REFUGE. IMAGE: COURTESY OF NOAA, NATIONAL OCEANIC & ATMOSPHERIC ADMINISTRATION 

Healthy coral saves lives, property, and wildlife. It can reduce wave height between 70 and 97% and buffer storm surge.

Unfortunately, 90% of the Florida Reef Tract’s coral is dead or dying from man-made factors including polluted runoff and the effects of global warming – and that was before the damage caused by the storm.  The further effects from Hurricane Irma are unknown as yet, what we do know is that the reef took a beating. Dead coral is less effective as a barrier, it is brittle, and much of it probably got pulverized. 

Key Deer

Conservation Status, Endangered

ONE OF THE SPRINGS NEW KEY DEER FAUNS BORN IN BIG PINE KEY, FLORIDA. HOW DID IT FAIR IN THE STORM? HOPEFULLY ITS MOTHER'S EXPERIENCE & INSTINCTS WERE ENOUGH TO KEEP IT SAFE. BUT CAN THEY SURVIVE THE ALTERED HABITAT? IMAGE BY NONI CAY, THANKS TO FLORIDA KEYS NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE. 

Sometimes called “toy deer”, they are the smallest of the white-tailed deer family (only 25-32 inches / 63 - 81cm at the shoulder), less than 1000 were left on the 25 or so islands in the Florida Keys before they took a direct hit from Irma’s fury.  

Key deer are good swimmers and have survived other storms. Some key deer have been already been spotted. The larger challenge comes in the following days and weeks, as you will see from the video, they have nowhere to run and their food and water sources are destroyed or contaminated by salt water.  As of this posting, the National Key Deer Refuge is still closed to the public. 

Florida Manatee

Conservation Status, Threatened

A couple of manatees in the Sarasota area were left stranded on the newly waterless beach as the storm's low pressure literally sucked the water out of the ocean. The two were rescued by a group of concerned citizens helped by the the local police. 

The Birds

Conservation Status, Species Range From Endangered to Least Concern

Birds feel changes in the barometric pressure before the storm arrives. Many leave the area, migrate sooner than usual, or hunker down. Some are caught in the wind currents and “delivered” to unusual places, like this Roseate Spoonbill in New Jersey last week. 

BIRDS ARE SOMETIMES PUSHED THOUSANDS OF MILES AWAY FROM THEIR NATURAL HABITAT BY STORMS. THIS ROSEATE SPOONBILL WAS RECENTLY SPOTTED IN AN EAGLES NEST IN THE HEISLERVILLE WILDLIFE MANAGEMENT AREA IN SOUTHERN NEW JERSEY. IMAGE COURTESY OF WILDLIFE PHOTOGRAPHER ©JOE GLIOZZO 

Florida Panthers

Conservation Status, Endangered 

CAUGHT BY CAMERA TRAP IN FEBRUARY, ONE OF BETWEEN 100 - 230 ADULT FLORIDA PANTHERS LEFT IN THE WILD, ALL IN IRMA'S PATH. IMAGE COURTESY OF FLORIDA PANTHER NATIONAL  WILDLIFE REFUGE. 

With only 100 to 230 adult Florida panthers left in the wild, each one’s survival is critical. We reached out to the Florida Panther Wildlife Refuge and Big Cypress National Preserve; they are overwhelmed at present recovering themselves, the facilities, and the wildlife. What we know is that food sources and sweet water are going to be scarce. We will bring you a report as soon as we have it. 

Alligators, Crocodiles, and Snakes

Conservation Status, Species Range From Endangered to Least Concern 

BEFORE THE STORM: AT BIG CYPRESS NATIONAL PRESERVE, THEY GIVE DINOSAURS THE RIGHT OF WAY. THE ECONOMICS OF NATURE TOURISM PROVIDES VITAL SUPPORT FOR THE HABITAT OF ALLIGATORS AND OTHER WILDLIFE. IMAGE: COURTESY OF BIG CYPRESS NATIONAL PRESERVE. 

These species are well adapted for survival in the roughest storms. The challenge for humans comes with their encroachment on habitat. Humans survivors may well come back to find one or more of these species taking refuge in their water-logged homes,  cars, or businesses. 

What can you do?

What can you do to help wildlife survive the storm? In two words: Responsible Tourism.

VISITORS ENJOY A BLISSFUL SUNSET KAYAK TOUR IN THE WESTERN EVERGLADES. THEIR LOCAL GUIDE COMPANY WORKS TO PROTECT THE BALANCE OF BOTH THE COMMUNITY AND ECOLOGY'S WELL BEING. THAT'S RESPONSIBLE TOURISM. IMAGE: TOD DAHLKE, TOUR THE GLADES. 

Vacation Fun = Preserved Habitat 

Your vacation brings desperately needed income to places where nature is still allowed to be nature. Nature and wildlife tourist dollars give economic support, means, and reason to keep wild places wild. The UN labeled this “Responsible Tourism.” You could also call it having fun!

This winter, visit the western Everglades. Stay in the small towns, eat at their local cafes, listen to the local's stories - experience the rebounding nature. You will be part of the recovery. You will have a wonderful escape from everyday city life – and you will be making a positive difference in the world.

Stay tuned! In the coming weeks we will be bringing you updates and ideas for a fabulous winter vacation in the western ‘glades.  

Everglades City, Big Cypress National Preserve, Florida Panther Wildlife Refuge, 10,000 Island National Wildlife Refuge, and the entire western Everglades is cleaning up and getting back to business. They await you with open arms.

RAINBOW OVER THE WETLANDS PRARIE IN BIG CYPRESS NATIONAL PRESERVE, FLORIDA. IMAGE: COURTESY OF BIG CYPRESS NATIONAL PRESERVE. 

MORE! 

Destination: Everglades City the Wildlife!

Kayaking With Alligators in Big Cypress National Preserve

Special Thanks to:

* Tod Dahlke and Tour the Glades  Follow on Facebook 
NOAA, Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary
Big Cypress National Preserve and Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge and USFWS
and Joe Gliozzo, Wildlife Photographer. and Noni Cay, Artist & Florida Keys Refuge Photographer 

* Full Disclosure: Prior to the storm, we experienced many wildlife sighting opportunities in and around Everglades city at the invitation of Tour the Glades. We strongly believe that wildlife and their habitat will be preserved only if and when they add economic value to the well-being of the human community. We support all who help make that partnership of well-being between humans and wildlife a sustainable reality.
All opinions are firmly our own. 
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