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(US) Scientist: Deadly storm puts marine animals at risk September 03, 2005 6:28 AM

By Tricia Walters

As rescue operations continue in Louisiana and Mississippi to move thousands of residents to safety, the fate of animals at Marine Life Oceanarium in Gulfport, Mississippi, and the Aquarium of the Americas in New Orleans remains unknown.
Although the Aquarium of the Americas, at the bottom of Canal Street in New Orleans, survived the initial onslaught of Hurricane Katrina on Monday, the fight to save the animals took a turn for the worse on Wednesday when staff were forced to abandon the aquarium as the water level continued to rise.
According to reports, staff fed the animals one last time and put the remainder of fuel in the backup generator to maintained proper temperatures to keep the sea life healthy, before leaving.
In neighbouring Mississippi, the fate of a group of dolphins moved to Gulfport remains unknown.
According to The Daily Telegraph, the animals were last seen in a hotel swimming pool, but the storm left the town of 70,000 people under ten feet of water which completely destroyed the Gulfport aquarium.
The only sign of life was a 13-year-old sea lion that had washed out of the Marine Life Oceanarium, four miles away.
The sea lion was rescued by a couple during the height of the storm as it washed by their home in a huge tidal wave.
Two days later, the two were keeping the sea lion, named Pocahontas, hydrated in a child’s wading pool and fed it fish scavenged from the freezers of the empty homes around them.
Another adult sea lion, evidently from the Marine Life Aquatic Centre, had washed up at a waterfront parking lot, but it was not as lucky.
A scientific advisor to the Bermuda Underwater Exploration Institute (BUEI) and vice-president of Global Marine Programs at the New England Aquarium in Boston, Dr. Greg Stone, said this week that there was a tragedy unfolding.
Although very little has been broadcast or publicised about the aquariums following Hurricane Katrina, Dr. Stone said he had heard through the “aquarium community” that they were somehow trying to stop further losses or somehow remedy the situation.
However, the fate of the aquariums and some 10,000 animals still remains unknown.
Dr. Stone said he could not help but compare Mississippi and Louisiana to Thailand after the tsunamis last December.
“I was in Gulfport about two weeks ago looking at a ship for another expedition to the South Pacific next year and when I see the area of devastation now it reminds me of Thailand after the tsunamis,” he said.
Dr. Stone recently returned from a scientific expedition to Thailand – four months after the tsunamis – to study the surrounding coral reef.
“I think it’s worse in Gulfport because in Thailand the tsunami only hit certain areas, while in Gulfport a massive stretch of coastline of a couple of hundred miles has been demolished,” he said.
He added that ecologically, many of the coastal marshes and ecosystems in Louisiana and Mississippi have already been destroyed through development.
He said if those systems were still in place, the damage to man-made structures would have been less because it would have absorbed the energy.
“I think it’s a real lesson – when we remove the natural buffers that nature provides, we will get a lot more damage from hurricanes and tsunamis,” he said.
That was the case in Thailand.
Dr. Stone said the reefs had already suffered huge losses from human activities, but if those reefs had been in better condition around Phuket, Thailand, then the damage would have been significantly less.
He said Bermudians should take heed of these disasters.
“Without the coral reefs Bermuda would not be here. The coral needs to continue growing and we need to have mangroves in certain areas and natural coastal environment that will act like a buffer against a possible tsunami or another hurricane,” he said.
He said there was also the possibility that global warming might be encouraging more powerful storms. “There does seem to be an increase in storms and it can be a natural fluctuation in storm rates over the millennia, or it could also be caused by global warming which is caused by us burning too much fossil fuel,” he said.
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