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St. Vincent Wildlife Refuge still recovering after Hurricane Michael

Updated: May. 26, 2021 at 6:42 PM EDT
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SAINT MARKS, Fla. (WCTV) - When hurricanes come to shore, storm surge doesn’t just flood our homes. Tropical storms also impact animal habitats along the forgotten coast. St. Vincent Wildlife Refuge is still recovering after Hurricane Michael two and a half years later.

Waves lap against a boat dock that is still crumbling into the gulf two years after Hurricane Michael crashed into the Forgotten Coast.

“It suffered some pretty significant damage, and so there’s components to it that are still falling off the dock from time to time, unfortunately. So, we’re trying to do maintenance on it to keep it functional, and at the same time, we’ve had quite a few volunteers help us to rehabilitate it,” said assistant manager at the refuge, John Stark.

Bare limbs are also seen in the foliage after saltwater from wind and storm surge killed trees across the island.

“As you can see with the trees that are killed behind me, that was because of salt stress, and the effect on those trees wasn’t visible for quite a while. We also lost essentially all our dunes along the gulf coast, so all of that dune habitat was washed away,” Stark explained.

The dunes are important to beach-nesting shorebirds and sea turtles who also make nests on the refuge.

“I believe the main impact was storm surge, especially to nesting shorebirds. It doesn’t take much to wipe, wash their nest out,” Biological Science Technician with the USDA Wildlife Services, Garrison Grobaski said.

But, some animals surprisingly resilient when facing mother nature.

“I was worried about our tortoises, we have maybe 50 or 75 or so on the island, and I know that most of those were submerged, and I was expecting to see as few as zero remaining when we went to look for them, but even burrows that I knew to have been gone underwater, the tortoises were just fine,” Stark added.

Rangers supervise the island’s gradual recovery.

“Great to see the island recovering a little every day. It’s a beautiful place out here, very unique spot in Florida. They call it the forgotten coast for a reason. It’s just a very rural area and beautiful pristine land,” Grobaski said.

St. Vincent is being revived after Hurricane Michael, ready if another storm comes their way. Federal aid is paying to replace the island’s boat dock. Engineers are currently designing the new dock.

For information on this year’s hurricane season, tune into A New Normal: Preparing for the 2021 Atlantic Hurricane Season airing May 27 at 5:30 PM, only on WCTV.

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