An egret roosts amid the tree debris after Hurricane Ian. Photo by Ken Hubley.
Michael BednarHurricane Ian arrived as a 150mph monster storm, large enough to fit Hurricane Charley in the calm center of its eye. Then Ian sat and sat and sat, doing its best to blow down our homes and businesses. Anything left dry or undamaged then ran the risk of rising flood waters as our local rivers and waterways were turned against us, swelling their banks, and devouring everything along their shores.
Charlotte Harbor Environmental Center CEO
As a Florida native I know hurricanes to be a part of our DNA, like seasonal traffic and housing market crashes. As a person who lives here, this is a choice I make. I will rebuild. I will stay. Florida is home. But that’s a choice.
As the director for an environmental center, I am keenly aware that the plants and animals in Florida had no choice. To them the sky just opened up with only a few hours’ notice, (animals and plants can often sense barometric pressure drops, like Spiderman’s spider sense) and washed them all away. This amounts to millions of insects and plants, and tens to hundreds of thousands of birds and animals, suddenly displaced, injured, and without food.
If you are a pollinator (bees, bats, butterflies, etc.) all the pollen and nectar just got blown into Georgia or the ocean. Birds are looking for insects that were literally decimated, and now the birds that weathered the storm are competing for resources that are scarce, or worse. Trees are leafing out and suddenly blooming. This is a stressed-induced response to the storm. Damage, including broken limbs, lost leaves, and flooded roots can stress plants out, causing changes in plant hormone levels (yes, that’s a thing) causing them to bloom or produce leaves out of season.
While all the people were watching Jim Cantore nearly get blown away while flexing in downtown Punta Gorda (yes, it’s on YouTube), the environment was experiencing its own natural disaster. While a hurricane may not appear as damaging as forest fires, the consequences are much the same, with environmental damage that lasts for years.
Some peripheral damages have yet to even manifest. All the organic waste (leaves, branches, septic) is going into our local waterways. These nutrient loads are well above average and will produce consequences in the future. Also, that paint you saved in the garage, and the wasp spray, and the two-stroke fuel; the flooding that wrecked homes also dumped chemicals. Lots of chemicals. If you still have yours, please recycle them (we have two recycling facilities in the county). Additionally, Florida’s fire season will be more active. Debris loads are bigger, fires will burn hotter.
As we begin to rebuild our community, please consider the environment that makes our homes so desirable, so unique. CHEC is purchasing native wildflower seeds in an effort to restore habitat/resources that feed our pollinators that feed the birds and that travels up and up the food chain. We are also partnering with local nurseries to purchase saplings and replant our community with native trees.
If you would like to support efforts to restore our local environment and the animals who lost their homes, or are going hungry, please visit checflorida.org and click the “donate” button in the top right corner.