The Perry Institute for Marine Science led surveys of several coral reefs receiving different levels of impact from Hurricane Matthew in several parts of The Bahamas. Reefs surveyed after Matthew were reefs previously surveyed 12 months prior to the storm to assess before and after impacts. Sites surveyed experienced varying impacts from major hurricane force winds versus sites receiving minor hurricane and tropical force winds.
Preliminary data indicates that impacts were quite variable, with relatively minor impacts at sites experiencing tropical storm and minor hurricane force winds. Larger impacts were observed at sites where stronger hurricane force winds caused large waves and storm surges, such as the reefs off SW New Providence. In some cases, reefs in the high impact areas escaped with minor damage to reef structure and may have experienced short-term benefits by having seaweeds removed from the reef by the storm, opening up space for coral larvae to “re-seed” reefs. These positive impacts may be short lived however, as seaweed recolonizes reefs.
On other reefs, the impacts of the hurricane were devastating, not only killing the living coral, but toppling coral structure and reducing areas that were once complex reef habitat to rubble fields or barren areas with almost no structure to provide habitat.
Further surveys are being conducted and data collected to get a better assessment of the extent of the damage to the reefs, how loss of habitat may affect fish, and how likely reefs are to recover.