Endangered species impacted by hurricane

Nathan Cobb | 315-4432 | @WaltonSunNate | nathan@waltonsun.com

Northwest Florida is home to a diverse population of animal and plant life, including one of the highest concentrations in the nation for endangered species, but their home was just steamrolled by a hurricane.

Arix Zalace, the founder of the local conservation company Turtle Safe Products, said that not only could their habitats have been negatively impacted by the storm, but the increase in traffic to the damaged areas could hinder them too.

"We live in a truly amazing area," Zalace said. "I would take that a step further and say that we live in a world-class area in terms of biodiversity. ... We have never really talked about this as a community, and I think it is time to start the conversation."

Carli Segelson, a communications agent for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation, said that after a natural disaster strikes, the public is the main concern. Once they're taken care of — and so they don't disrupt hurricane relief efforts — FWC visits the areas to inspect any damages to the local wildlife.

"Florida's fish and wildlife have experienced natural weather events such as hurricanes and tropical storms for thousands of years and generally are well adapted for survival," Segelson said, who shared that their staff might start observing areas to the east next week. "Wildlife has species-specific behaviors that help it deal with sever weather conditions, generally without the assistance of people."

She said FWC accesses species on a "case-by-case basis" after a major storm.

Segelson also said that the best way everyday people can help the wildlife recover from a hurricane is to just give the species their space.

"The biggest threat to endangered species is human activity," said Melinda Gates, the coastal resource liaison for Walton County.

She said smart land development, maintenance — and in this case, reconstruction — are essential as well.

Gates added that there's not much people can do to prepare wildlife for a natural disaster and that residents should just let nature run its course.

"Natural systems will naturally adapt overtime after storms roll through," she said.

A full list of Florida's endangered and threatened species can be found at myfwc.com/media/1515251/threatened-endangered-species.pdf.