The 2022 Atlantic hurricane season will be remembered for the $113-billion-dollar devastation and loss of life caused by Hurricane Ian in late September 2022. Notably, this occurred during a hurricane season that ended up being less active than initially predicted by Colorado State University. However, the rare, subtropical storm occurrence that was first tracked by the National Hurricane Center in early January 2023 is a reminder that forecasting behavior of the Atlantic hurricane season—which does not begin until June 1—will be challenging.
After an unusually persistent three-year La Niña, also known as a “triple-dip” event, in early May the NOAA National Weather Service predicted a greater than 90% chance that an El Niño event will begin in the next few months and continue through this winter. El Niño is a climate pattern that is characterized by above-average sea surface temperatures; due to these conditions, experts confirmed that this creates additional uncertainty in predicting the activity for the 2023 hurricane season.
Published more recently, on May 25, the NOAA 2023 Atlantic Hurricane Season Outlook now forecasts a “near-normal” hurricane season due to a series of competing factors (e.g., El Niño conditions), with 12–17 named storms (including 5–9 hurricanes, 1–4 of which may develop into major hurricanes) predicted between June 1 and November 30. While the “near-normal” outlook might sound favorable, it remains critical that local, state, and federal governments remain prepared for the worst.
Many coastal marine environments, like seagrass meadows, mangroves, and coral reefs, protect coastal regions and minimize the impact of tropical storms and hurricanes. A study published in Marine Policy estimated that coral reefs safeguard 5.3 million people and $109 billion of economic value per decade. Due to their 3D structure, coral reefs can buffer up to 97% of wave energy from coastal storms and hurricanes. This decrease in wave action prevents coastal beach erosion and damage to coastal communities. Like coral reefs, seagrass beds also play a significant role in decreasing coastal wave action and preventing sediment erosion during hurricanes and storms. Seagrass communities spread roots and rhizomes through the seabed, which stabilizes the seabed and prevents erosion that can impact the surrounding community. Similarly, mangrove forests that fringe the coastline have been shown to dampen not only wind waves but also impacts from tsunamis.
While seagrass beds, mangroves, and coral reefs can increase coastal protection from storms and hurricanes, their front-row seat to increased wave activity and violent atmospheric storms can also damage them. Due to their more delicate structure, branching corals, like Acropora spp., are more susceptible to damage caused by increased wave activity from hurricanes and tropical storms. For example, more than 50% of the Acropora palmata found along Florida’s coral reef was found to be significantly damaged after Hurricane Andrew in 1992. Seagrasses and mangroves can be eroded with sufficiently severe and long-duration storm events, particularly when they occur with increased frequency.
Similar to increased turbidity during dredging events, hurricane conditions can cause pollutants and diseases locked in sediments to be resuspended. Increased turbidity from hurricanes and coastal storms can decrease overall clarity and access to light needed by photosynthetic corals and seagrass environments. The release of potential pathogens can increase the spread of impactful coral diseases found in Florida and the Caribbean, like black band disease (BBD) or stony coral tissue loss disease (SCTLD). Last year, Hurricane Ian not only caused damage to coastal communities but also destroyed reefs and increased the occurrence of red tide events along the west coast of Florida.
Post-Disaster Stabilization and Restoration
Previous monitoring and habitat status are needed to understand and compare how seagrass and coral reef environments were impacted by storms. In recent years, coral reef resource managers have used the practice of rapid and selective stabilization to help reefs recover from storm events. Having response plans locked down ahead of time allows restoration practitioners to act and respond quickly after the event. Restoration specialists, like those from the NOAA Restoration Center, have identified key points to improve coastal management solutions that minimize impacts from hurricanes. Emergency response plans for reattaching live corals that have broken off due to increased and repetitive wave activity has been proven as a viable option for increasing the chance of coral survival.
At CSA Ocean Sciences Inc. (CSA), we have experienced coastal resilience practitioners and applied marine scientists that carry out vital restoration and monitoring projects up and down the US coastlines. We work with public agencies and private companies to design and execute comprehensive coastal survey programs, which include habitat monitoring campaigns pre-, during, and post-extreme weather events. Backed by over 53 years of designing and executing multidisciplinary marine surveys, our in-house modeling and GIS team produce novel risk assessment models that guide coastal restoration projects towards success.
Find out more about CSA and our coastal services at https://www.csaocean.com/services.
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