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Reflections on Resilience After Hurricane Ian

November 2, 2022

By Carrie Schuman, Ph.D., SCCF Coastal Resilience Manager

The following is part of a regularly occurring series that explores how building coastal resilience is interwoven with a variety of local issues and topics.

As the weeks are beginning to pass since Hurricane Ian, I wanted to take the time to share and reiterate some of the signposts of resilience I and others at SCCF have experienced on Sanibel and Captiva and our surrounding communities.

The Resilience of Our Nature

As has been reported across many of our local stories and social media content, SCCF staff has continued their work in support our local flora and fauna, and lately even in support of island pets! Staff are heartened by some of their sightings and findings and look forward to having post-hurricane datasets to compare to their pre-Ian species monitoring.

Left, Client Services Coordinator Brianna Frank recently helped this Florida red-bellied turtle to safety. Right, Florida red-bellied turtle after being set down away from oncoming cars.

For instance, Wildlife & Habitat Management Program Director Chris Lechowicz’s recent wildlife update confirms sightings of all 11 species of non-marine turtles on the island, though the future success of some of these species will depend on the availability of freshwater, which has become more limited after Ian introduced salty water in many places.

Shorebird Biologist Audrey Albrecht has re-sighted resident banded piping plovers, snowy plovers, and royal terns, and she has even spotted some new fledglings on Sanibel and nearby beaches. Shorebird Technician Aaron White shared that it “was very encouraging to see normal bird activity…on the beach” after he assisted with surveys.

As mentioned in this recent piece, almost 36,000 hatchlings sea turtle hatchlings have had the opportunity to emerge this year before Ian reached our shores at the tail end of nesting season. Also, staff have been encouraged by the splashes of green that have emerged on island, especially among more salt tolerant species of vegetation in the weeks following the storm.

Flock of Royal Terns on Sanibel Island surveyed after Hurricane Ian by Shorebird Biologist Audrey Albrecht

Left, SCCF Photographer Shane Antalick documented signs of mangrove resilience and regrowth on Sanibel soon after Hurricane Ian

We may certainly see shifts in the makeup of our local biodiversity, both post-Ian and in response to future disturbances. However, research — like this 2020 study by Neilson et al. in the Journal of Ecology and Evolution — provides some hopeful insights surrounding our valued island species. The study found that, though many species may experience a reduction in abundance after extreme weather events, many of them exhibit an ability to persist and compensate in response. SCCF’s above observations provide some initial indications of this compensatory ability, and we remain committed to amplifying those chances of success.

The Resilience of Our Community

Our resilience to the effects of climate change and extreme events will rely on our ability to band together as a community, and we certainly have seen strong examples of this both within the SCCF family and our community at large in response to Hurricane Ian. Leadership on our islands and at other scales across the state quickly started working on disaster recovery efforts, which SCCF helped supplement with equipment and resources whenever possible. We’ve also seen incredible instances of people heavily impacted by the storm taking time to help their neighbors and to report wildlife sightings.

As detailed here, staff have been consistently traveling on island to work on our own facilities, but also help out other members of the SCCF family including our volunteers and partners. Showing up as a group means we’re able to quickly tackle tasks like moving furniture and cleaning up yards that could normally take days to complete. For many of us, these efforts have helped us process the impact of Ian and gives us a means to more actively contribute to the recovery process.

While she knows recovery will take time, Client Services Coordinator Brianna Frank is still impressed in how much has happened in a short time. “Everyone working together has made it look like a completely different place,” she said. Marine Science Educator Austin Wise says it’s felt better to help than being off island, especially once he “saw each person eager to get stuff done and make progress.”

The level of collaboration we’ve seen across Sanibel, Captiva, and surrounding communities suggests we have an important ingredient needed to continue our journey to being resilient. We’ve also seen a dedicated desire to live in harmony with nature. 


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