Outfront: Effects of Hurricanes on Marine Life

Hurricanes are a major threat in many states, causing severe damage worth millions of dollars in hours. Homes, businesses, vehicles, and boats are destroyed, and people are injured. Unfortunately, hurricanes are also incredibly unpredictable, and there is often little time to prepare when they come. The effects of hurricanes can be devastating, whether on land or at sea. Have you ever wondered what marine life does during a hurricane while humans prepare food and water stockpiles and construct underground shelters? You might get an idea if you try to picture yourself trapped inside a massive washing machine. This is a reality that marine life must face when hit by a hurricane. 

At the ocean’s surface, the mayhem begins. The hurricane’s winds produce waves as they interact with the water. The wind has more surface area to push against as the waves rise in height, which causes the waves to grow even bigger. Each wave is caused by the circular motion of the water below it, which causes another, smaller circle to be created. These orbital motions tend to flatten out as they get closer to the bottom because they can no longer pass through the seabed. They are not circular but rather very horizontal, going back and forth. Moreover, those exert great stress or force on the seabed. This stress, in turn, causes the formation of waves and can be powerful enough to form cracks in the seabed or cause erosion.

Hurricanes profoundly impact marine ecosystems, altering everything from seafloor habitats to water salinity and oxygen levels. Additionally, as pollutants and other foreign substances wash into the water from houses, roads, and buildings after a hurricane hits land, these effects may worsen. This disruption of the natural balance of a marine ecosystem can have lasting impacts, with some species potentially being driven to extinction as the effects linger and worsen. 


It can be challenging to investigate how fish react to hurricanes. Hurricanes are relatively infrequent occurrences with unpredictable storm paths and little advance notice. Most data on fish reactions to hurricanes is from long-term monitoring studies or short-term research projects that were halted by a hurricane. Hurricanes in the open ocean can change the productivity of the ocean, increasing the amount of food available to some fish. Hurricanes toward the shore blow seawater. The coastal wetlands  –

become saltier than usual. As a result, luring fish that normally inhabit the open ocean. 

When a hurricane hits, the coast is inundated with fresh water. Compared to salt water, this freshwater is less dense. The salty bottom layer cannot absorb oxygen due to the disparity in densities. Fish that live on the bottom may experience stress. They might start to get lesions and sores or exhibit other disease symptoms. 

Crabs, sea turtles, oysters, and fish with slower swimming or territorial tendencies typically suffer during hurricanes. Not only do they get battered by the waves, but there is also less dissolved oxygen in the water and rapid salinity changes as the deep and shallow waters of the ocean mix. In shallow waters, hurricanes also stir up dirt and sand, which can clog fish’s gills and cause death. 


The likelihood of a sea creature surviving a looming hurricane increases with size. Fast-moving fish, like sharks, typically avoid harm during hurricanes because they can sense even minute changes in water pressure and respond by swimming deeper or farther away. 

Dolphins can sense the approach of hurricanes, and many of them make sure to leave the area before one makes landfall. This instinctive awareness of danger is incredibly impressive and shows us just how sophisticated dolphins’ brains are. Dolphins 

quickly replace washed-up calves with new ones. The effect of a hurricane on whales can be both direct and indirect. Direct impacts may include physical harm from strong winds and high waves and displacement from their normal habitats. Indirect impacts can result from changes in water quality and food availability due to the storm. 

For example, the churning of the ocean caused by a hurricane can reduce the clarity of the water and make it difficult for whales to locate their food, such as krill or small fish. In addition, hurricanes can also alter the distribution and abundance of the whales’ prey, making it harder for them to find enough food to sustain themselves. Additionally, destroying coastal habitats, such as mangroves or sea grass beds, can negatively impact the food chain supporting whales. 

Overall, the effects of hurricanes on whales can be significant and may have long-term consequences for whale populations, particularly if the impacts are repeated over time.


Hurricanes can have significant impacts on coral reefs. Strong winds and high waves generated by hurricanes can cause physical damage to the delicate coral structures, breaking them into fragments and exposing them to disease. Additionally, the increased turbidity and runoff from heavy rainfall can reduce the amount of light that reaches the corals, leading to stress and decreased photosynthesis. The storm surges associated with hurricanes can also cause changes in water temperature and salinity, negatively affecting coral health. In severe

cases, hurricanes can destroy large areas of coral reefs, which can take years or even decades to recover. Additionally, hurricanes can alter ocean currents and water temperatures, which can cause further stress to corals and potentially lead to bleaching events. Bleaching occurs when corals, under stress, expel the symbiotic algae which live within their tissues and provide them with energy, leaving them pale and vulnerable to disease and death. 


Hurricanes can have a significant impact on fishing industries. Strong winds and heavy rainfall can damage fishing boats, harbors, and coastal infrastructure, reducing access to fishing grounds and decreasing productivity. The high winds and rough seas associated with hurricanes can also make it dangerous for fishing vessels to venture out to sea, leading to extended periods of inactivity for fishing operations. In addition to the direct effects on fishing vessels and infrastructure, hurricanes can indirectly impact fishing industries. 

For example, the disturbance of ocean ecosystems caused by storms can alter fish migration patterns, causing changes in the distribution and abundance of target species and making them more difficult to catch. 

Furthermore, the increase in freshwater runoff caused by heavy rainfall can also negatively impact nearshore and estuarine habitats, where many commercial and recreational fish species are found. This can result in reduced water quality, which can have a cascading effect on the health of these ecosystems and the species they support. 

Overall, hurricanes can significantly impact fishing industries, causing direct and indirect damage to fishing vessels, infrastructure, and the marine environment, leading to reduced productivity and profits. However, the extent of the impact can vary depending on the severity of the hurricane, the location of fishing operations, and the resilience of the local fishing community.


Hurricanes can devastate marine life, causing significant harm to habitats and ecosystems and disrupting the delicate balance of marine food chains. To mitigate the effects of hurricanes on marine life, we can take several steps: 

Promote Coastal Resilience: 

By promoting coastal resilience, we can reduce the impact of hurricanes on marine life. Coastal resilience can do this by restoring and protecting wetlands, creating breakwaters, and improving shoreline armoring.

Implement Emergency Response Plans: 

 It is important to have a plan in place to respond to the aftermath of a hurricane, including how to rescue and care for injured or displaced marine life. 

Monitor Water Quality: 

 After a hurricane, water quality in affected areas can be affected. Monitoring water quality can help to prevent harm to marine life and their habitats.

Clean-Up Efforts:  

Clean-up efforts should be implemented immediately after a hurricane to remove debris and prevent further harm to marine life. 

Rebuild Habitats:  

Coastal habitats, such as mangroves, sea grass beds, and coral reefs, provide crucial habitats and nursery areas for many species of marine life. Efforts should be made to rebuild habitats that a hurricane has damaged, such as coral reefs and sea grass beds. A healthy coral reef, for instance, can reduce a wave’s energy by 97% before it reaches the shore, thereby safeguarding people and property. 

Support Conservation Efforts:  

Supporting conservation efforts, such as those aimed at protecting endangered species, can help ensure marine life’s long-term survival following a hurricane. 

By taking these steps, we can help mitigate hurricanes’ impact on marine life and promote the health of our oceans and coastal ecosystems. 


According to recent studies, climate change is expected to increase the intensity of hurricanes by 2–11%, with a 10-15% increase in rainfall. To prevent the increasingly devastating effects of storms, we must reduce climate change and its associated emissions. 

No matter how you look at it, hurricanes have the potential to harm both land and marine ecosystems seriously. The impact of hurricanes on sea life, in particular, depends on the type of creature in danger. Larger animals can avoid risk during these storms, while smaller ones have a lower chance of survival. The resilience of coral reefs is less certain. Corals may take years or even decades to recover from a hurricane, threatening entire reef ecosystems.

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