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Hurricane Irene Impacts Wildlife on NC Coast

September 12, 2011

OUTER BANKS, N.C. - North Carolinians continue to clean up damage left from Hurricane Irene, but not only people are feeling the impact. The state's wildlife will take months, or even years, to recover from the powerful storm, scientists say. Hurricane winds can blow birds off course, destroy coastal nests and affect water quality in both saltwater and freshwater areas.

Doug Inkley, a senior scientist with the National Wildlife Federation, says his organization is even receiving reports of animals getting hit by cars on highways as they look for a new home.

"Wildlife are being pushed out of their homes. Their homes are flooded, they need to seek new areas where they can survive, so there you have a direct hurricane impact on wildlife."

The dune and beach loss destroyed habitat for many animals, such as sea turtles. The storm surge also changed the balance of fresh and brackish water in coastal wetlands.

Inkley says that hurricanes are stronger now than they were 50 years ago. He and other scientists attribute that to warmer waters caused by global warming.

"Humans are causing the climate to change. There is no question about that. We do need to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions so that in the future the hurricanes won't be as strong as they have been in recent decades because of the increase in carbon dioxide."

Many coastal trees and forests also saw damage, which disrupts the food source for many animals. Species already close to extinction are particularly vulnerable.

Stephanie Carroll Carson, Public News Service - NC