Six months after Hurricane Dorian first hit the Bahamas, the storm's damaging impacts are still being discovered across the archipelago, as evidenced by a report recently released by researchers at the Perry Institute of Marine Sciences (PIMS) -- a research organization based in Waitsfield, Vermont -- that explores the total damage that the storm created for coral reefs in the area.
Although a final, official death toll has yet to be released, Dorian is considered to be the most devastating storm in the history of the Bahamas, costing billions in human infrastructure loss. At least 74 deaths have been attributed to the storm.
Storm damage is still prevalent on the islands, but underwater, the storm's violent wrath also can still be noticed. Dorian caused severe damage to 20% of the coral reefs that were examined in the study done by the institute.
"The damage that we saw was quite variable. On the reefs hit the hardest, the reef structure itself was damaged so there will be significant impacts - loss of living coral, declines in many fish populations that may last for decades," Dr. Craig Dahlgren, the institute's executive director, told AccuWeather via email. "This is not true of all sites but a serious risk for up to 20% of the sites visited. Many more sites will likely see relatively minor changes - loss of corals, and more subtle changes to fish communities."
Debris from land is another problem that has affected the situation. According to the report, reefs have been polluted by debris that was pulled into the ocean during the storm. Items such as household appliances washed away from destroyed homes to trees that were uprooted during the storm and carried by tides are now covering a substantial number of reefs.
This debris, along with the fracture of corals resulting from the force of the storm, has caused a disruption in the structure of the reefs. This can have long-term repercussions if measures aren't taken.
"Before the storm, the percent of corals observed that were loose fragments varied among sites from 0-4% of colonies surveyed," the report mentioned when talking about the disruption of the structure of reefs caused by the storm. "After Hurricane Dorian, approximately one-third of the sites surveyed had significant increases in the percent of fragmented corals."
This structural damage is of high concern, as it threatens to decrease habitat diversity for organisms living on reefs.
As of right now, the removal of debris and re-attachment of fractured corals are the first steps being taken to help restore reefs, Dahlgren told AccuWeather.
"Debris is being removed from several nearshore reefs that are easy to access, but life is still very difficult on Abaco and parts of Grand Bahama - there are still few functioning local boats and hardly any working diving facilities, so progress is slow," Dahlgren said. "We will start working on restoring reefs over the next few months. Initially by stabilizing dislodged/broken coral fragments so that they don't continue to roll around and die."
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