Storm Relocations

February 4, 2024
By Damond Benningfield

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Storm surge from Hurricane Ian allowed aquatic plants and animals to travel to new locations, which could pose an environmental threat. Credit: USGS

Hurricane Ian slammed into southwestern Florida in September 2022. It produced a storm surge up to 15 feet high, and dumped a foot or more of rain across the region. That killed dozens, damaged or destroyed thousands of buildings, and caused tens of billions of dollars in losses.

Floridians are still evaluating another form of damage—the spread of plants and animals beyond their usual habitats. Flooding and the storm surge brought water in from the Gulf of Mexico, and caused lakes and rivers to overflow their banks. The water acted like a superhighway, allowing organisms to travel far from home.

The U.S. Geological Survey estimated that almost 200 species could have been relocated. Some of them were living in the bays and estuaries, while others were in freshwater areas. Among the affected species are frogs, crabs, fish, shrimp, turtles, and plants. The list includes pythons, which were already spreading far and wide across the region.

The resettling of species can cause all kinds of trouble. Newly introduced species can eat up or crowd out existing species, altering an entire ecosystem. New species can also damage infrastructure—clogging pipes, fouling boats, and causing other mischief. And some species can be dangerous to people—think alligators that suddenly find themselves in a new environment.

Scientists and non-scientists alike are still keeping their eyes open—for plants and animals relocated by a powerful hurricane.