How do hurricanes affect sea life?

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A sunken vessel in Vieques, Puerto Rico

A sunken vessel among a coral colony in Vieques, Puerto Rico, on Oct. 23, 2017. Following Hurricane Maria in 2017, NOAA and partners removed a total of 479 displaced vessels and 3,668 hazardous chemical containers. Teams also relocated approximately 400 coral colonies.


When a storm churns across the ocean, the warm surface waters provide additional moisture and
can fuel the storm into a hurricane. As the hurricane grows larger and more potent, it can
generate waves as high as 18.3 meters, tossing and mixing warmer surface waters with the colder,
saltier water below. The resulting currents can extend as far as 91.5 meters below the
surface, wreaking deadly havoc on marine life.

If the wild currents fail to break up coral reefs in their path, the rain-infused water they bring
reduces salt levels and otherwise stresses corals. As the hurricane moves toward shore, the
underwater tumult can cause shifting sands and muddy shallow waters, blocking the essential
sunlight on which corals and other sea creatures rely.

Slow-moving fish and turtles and shellfish beds are often decimated by the rough undercurrents
and rapid changes in water temperature and salinity wrought by a hurricane. Sharks, whales, and
other large animals swiftly move to calmer waters, however, and, generally speaking, are not
overly affected by hurricanes.

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