The main Hawaiian islands didn’t see any damage when Hurricane Walaka passed by earlier this month.
The storm, however, caused major devastation to the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, particularly East Island in the French Frigate Shoals.
A satellite image of the island taken in June shows a vast difference to one taken after Walaka passed through. Much of the island is gone, apparently underwater, except for a few small sandbars.
NOAA says the change is significant because East Island is home to about 50 percent of the green sea turtle nesting population, and 30 percent of monk seal pups are born there every year.
“When the animals return next year, one of the key things we’ll look at is how quickly they’ll adapt,” said Charles Littnan, director of NOAA’s Protected Species Division. “Do they come back to the islet and it’s missing and they decide not to nest, or do they go and find another islet? And we think it’s probably going to be the latter. We’ve seen other islands disappear historically and animals have responded.”
A marine debris team is heading toward the area as part of a previously planned mission.
While there, they will do a preliminary assessment of the damage and impact to wildlife.