Transcript for Hurricane Force - A Coastal Perspective, segment 08 of 12


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On their first visit to Culebra following Hurricane Hugo, the scientists placed markers on the reef in several areas that were damaged by the hurricane with the long-term goal of returning every few years to monitor the reef's recovery.

In south Florida today, certainly in Puerto Rico, Hawaii, coral reefs are one of the reasons that tourists come to these areas. Dive shops, fishing charters - there's a whole new industry around tourism and coral reefs that's developed largely during the last twenty-five years. In the Florida Keys that's estimated at hundreds of millions of dollars now. When a hurricane comes through in a place like Culebra, people's immediate reaction is, oh my God, we've lost the reef. You know, there goes our industry. There's a tremendous amount of concern about how bad that impact is and what the length of time will be until things come back pretty much to normal. We're very interested in finding out what that length of time is. Here in Culebra it looks like things are coming back very rapidly. There were large broken pieces of coral the size of tree trunks with little living tips, and those seem to be recovering and regenerating. Now corals that maybe were just the size of your finger right after the hurricane - those were three or four inches high in nineteen ninety-one - now they're eight or ten inches high, and they look quite healthy. The diversity of the coral reef is coming back. We saw many more species out there on this trip than we saw have two and a half years ago.

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Your immediate reaction is a hurricane is basically destructive, that it comes through and destroys a reef, but it also scatters pieces of broken coral far and wide, and those become the nuclei for new coral growth so over the long term hurricanes could actually be the agent of dispersal of, or growth of coral reefs over areas of miles. Those are the sorts of things we'd like to understand better.