A remote part of the chain of Hawaiian Islands has been erased from the map after being washed away by a powerful hurricane earlier this month.
Researchers confirmed East Island in the French Frigate Shoals received significant damage as a result of Hurricane Walaka — a powerful Category 4 storm — roaring over the islands.
“According to recent satellite images, there have been significant changes to French Frigate Shoals,” Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument said in a statement. “The images appear to show alterations to Tern Island, and East Island appears to be under water.”
At least seven researchers were evacuated from the atoll as the storm approached earlier this month. The French Frigate Shoals researchers were studying and monitoring Hawaiian monk seals and Hawaiian green sea turtles and were due to leave the island in the middle of October.
“Both Tern and East Island are important nesting grounds for threatened green sea turtles and pupping grounds for endangered monk seals,” Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument said in a statement.
“I had a holy s**t moment, thinking ‘Oh my God, it’s gone,’” Chip Fletcher, a University of Hawaii climate scientist, told Honolulu Civil Beat. “It’s one more chink in the wall of the network of ecosystem diversity on this planet that is being dismantled.”
The scientist said he had always expected the island would be swallowed by the ocean, but not for another couple of decades.
French Frigate Shoals is where 95 per cent of Hawaiian green sea turtles — classified as threatened under the Endangered Species Act — nest.
The turtles dig holes on the beach and lay their eggs in the sand, so there’s a possibility a storm surge from a hurricane may wipe out their nests.
“Monument co-managers are working to better understand the implications for cultural resources and wildlife, protected species and their habitat within the Monument,” Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument said. “We will continue to monitor the species and islands to better assess the impacts from the hurricane. Based on the data, managers will determine next steps and management actions.”