Of all the destructive impacts of a hurricane, with its life-threatening storm surges and massive flooding, the sudden lack of aquatic habitat is not a typical concern. However, bays and canals drained by Hurricane Irma’s intense storm system were exactly the threats facing Florida’s aquatic wildlife over the weekend, including manatees. Michael Sechler of Sarasota, Florida, saw these stranded creatures beached where formerly there was water and took action to save them. Law enforcement and other locals also arrived to offer a helping hand and, together, the Floridians carried the manatees, which can easily weigh over 600 pounds, back into the sea.
The manatees beached in Sarasota and other parts of Florida along Irma’s path suffered from an unusual phenomenon in which water was pulled away from typically submerged shores while areas above sea level suffered flooding. As the storm approached places like Tampa, strong winds pushed water out of shallow bays and canals and into a storm surge elsewhere. “As soon as the wind shifts direction, the water will come back quickly and continue to move inland,” said CNN meteorologist Judson Jones. Although the wind temporarily removed water from the area, it returned with strength. “After the storm center passes Tampa, the wind will change from offshore to onshore and push water and large ocean surface waves onshore,” said Shuyi Chen, a professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Washington in Seattle.
While the water was low, Sechler and his friends traveled out to where the manatees were trapped. “My friends and I couldn’t move these massive animals ourselves, and we called every service we could think of, but no one answered,” said Sechler. “We gave them as much water as we could, hoping the rain and storm surge [would] come soon enough to save them.” Eventually, fellow citizens and law enforcement officers arrived to assist in the rescue operation. The animals were rolled up in a tarp, then carried the 100 yards to the open ocean. Now that Irma has passed through Sarasota, the manatees and their rescuers can expect more peaceful seas.