Published 9:47 PM EDT Oct 24, 2018
A remote Hawaiian island vanished underwater after powerful hurricane struck earlier this month, according to federal officials citing satellite images.
East Island, a strip of gravel and sand northwest of Honolulu, "appears to be under water" after Hurricane Walaka surged past the state, the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument said in a Tuesday statement.
The island has played a key role in the survival of beleaguered seals and sea turtles, said the officials, who are "working to better understand the implications" of the island's sunken status.
“There’s no doubt that it was the most important single islet for sea turtle nesting,” Charles Littnan, a biologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, told the Honolulu Civil Beat, which first reported the island's disappearance.
The 11-acre isle acted as nesting grounds for half the world's Hawaiian green sea turtles, the Civil Beat reported. It served as the birthplace for roughly one-seventh of all Hawaiian monk seals.
The Civil Beat's Nathan Eagle published before and after photos of the island on Twitter.
The seals and turtles that rely on the island had likely left for the season before the hurricane hit, but whether East Island will every return and how any displaced animals will respond remains unclear, Littnan told the site.
At half-mile long and 400 feet wide, East Island was the second-largest island in an atoll 550 miles off Honolulu known as French Frigate Shoals, part of the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument, according to HuffPost.
The island's loss was initially a "holy s---" moment for Chip Fletcher, a University of Hawaii climate scientist who spoke with Huffpost. He said such events may become more common.
“The probability of occurrences like this goes up with climate change," he told the site.
A landmark report this month linked climate change to the intensity of hurricanes, though not their frequency.
Follow Josh Hafner on Twitter: @joshhafner
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