Catastrophic Hurricanes like Irma, Maria, and Dorian may be devastating for humans, but what happens to the creatures that are caught up in them? A new study shows that hurricanes actually help caribbean fish, not harm them.
Hurricanes bring strong winds, big waves, and devastation to many Caribbean countries during storm season. Some years are worse than others. As the 2017 Atlantic Hurricane season showed us, direct hits can wreak a lot of damage on the islands and cause harm to thousands of people. Buildings are damaged, power goes out, essentials become scarce, and people suffer terrible losses. But what about fish? How do catastrophic storms affect fish populations in the Caribbean islands? A new study carried out in Puerto Rico (one of the islands most affected by the 2017 Hurricane season) unearthed some surprising results.
Native river fish
Puerto Rico was the perfect island for the study to take place, considering the fact that the island was battered to an extreme in 2017, and the fact that it has only nine native species of river fish.
However, those nine aren’t the only species of fish present in Puerto Rico’s numerous rivers. Humans have introduced plenty of other fish to the rivers over the years, on purpose or by accident. However they got there, their presence has been detrimental to the native species. Take the bigmouth sleeper, for example, a tough river predator that competes with native island fish for food and habitat–and often wins.
Conserving native fish species is crucial for the Caribbean, since they are specially adapted to their environment. Therefore, their abundance is a good indicator that “everything’s all good” in the island ecosystem. They can also indicate clean drinking water.
Resetting the balance
As Hurricane Maria battered Puerto Rico in 2017, thousands of fish were flushed down river and into the ocean. Exposed to salt water and trauma, most didn’t make it. However, it wasn’t the native species that were utterly decimated– it was the nonnative fish. These exotic fish, unused to flooding and high waters, were unable to stay in the rivers.
And the native fish? Since they are perfectly adapted to the island’s ecosystem and occasional storms, the hurricane simply didn’t affect them.
In contrast, native fish are built to survive high, rushing waters. Their body shape and behavior actually thrives on those conditions. On the other hand, droughts and low waters cause them to struggle.
So, hurricanes essentially “restore the balance” in Caribbean waters and allow native fish to thrive. They flush out exotic predators and reduce competition for food and habitat.
And that’s not the only good thing that hurricanes bring about. With all the destruction they cause, these natural storms actually do restore nature’s balance in a few other areas. Among these are bringing in fresh nutrients and sediment, which helps new plant life to grow. In turn, this new plant life allows animals to thrive. This essentially helps return the earth to its native, wild state, before it was touched by humans.
Want to help keep our planet beautiful? Learn how to take a plastic-free vacation here!