Hurricane Irma tore across the island of Barbuda, leaving destruction in her wake and forcing 1,600 people to evacuate. Our disaster response team was contacted by Antigua and Barbuda’s Ministry of the Environment to assess wildlife and the destruction of habitats. Reports of the destruction and impact have been made, however, little is known about how Irma has impacted wildlife.
Our goal for the day was to locate key wildlife species and identify their body condition and behavior. Both teams share a concern for wildlife and how they manage during disasters. Being an island, much wildlife had no other option but to weather the storm’s Category 5 winds and rain.
Following a steep hike up the side of a cliff to obtain a better vantage point, we spotted fresh sea turtle tracks in the sand below, leading to new nests. This is great news as we were first worried when we saw the best in site location covered with fallen branches and debris from the storm. Sea turtle adults are finding their way to nesting sites and giving us the hope that a new generation will shortly be arriving. While we did not see any leatherback sea turtles, Barbuda is a nesting location. With the nesting habitat still intact, this endangered species will be able to continue reproducing.
Ruleo Camacho, from Ministry of the Environment, told me, “Despite the impact of Hurricane Irma, vegetation on the northern portion of the island appears to be recovering rapidly. Green shrubbery has already begun to emerge, following rain from the past few days. Additionally, wildlife appears to be in a mostly healthy condition, with very few instances of suffering or death. The resilience of the environment is very remarkable and will be fascinating to observe the full recovery over the upcoming months.”
While initial reports are positive, we understand that true and lasting recovery will take years of work. We also have not completed our assessment of all the wildlife species on Barbuda. We do anticipate some populations have been impacted more than others. Though we did find many species doing well, other species like the Yellow Barbuda Warbler were not to be found in our assessment of the wetlands.
More to come as we continue our efforts here in Barbuda.
Article source: IFAW