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Monday, February 26, 2024

When Sarah Steele Cabrera found an organism she thought would have been made extinct by Hurricane Irma, she laughed and high-fived her colleague.

On Oct. 24, six weeks after Hurricane Irma hit, Cabrera traveled to an island west of the Florida Keys to check on the population of the Miami blue butterfly, which she had been working to preserve before the hurricane hit.

“I was really excited and just relieved to see them and that the habitat is doing well,” Cabrera, a research technician with the Florida Museum of Natural History, said.

The Miami blue is only found on a handful of islands, and a hurricane sweeping over the area had the potential to wipe out the population, Cabrera said.

After Hurricane Irma, researchers anticipated heavy negative population effects, but after searching one of the organism’s native islands, they found the butterfly still surviving, she said.

She said although the Miami blue is doing well right now, it is vulnerable to any upcoming tropical storms.

Hurricane Irma depleted vegetation in the nature preserve where the butterflies are released, Bahia Keys State Park. Now researchers must wait for the plants to regrow before they can release more butterflies, setting their schedule back a year, she said.

Jaret Daniels, the head researcher of the Miami blue at the Florida Museum, said the butterfly may not be as lucky if a different storm hits the Florida Keys. He said he hopes the Miami blue’s flexibility and stability strengthen thanks to the Florida Museum’s research.

Daniels said people should be aware hurricanes affect animal habitats as much as they affect human ones.

Seeing the Miami blue butterflies still in the wild, even after the storm, made Daniels even more encouraged than when he initially started researching them, he said.

“It means that our efforts to try to expand the range and ecology of this butterfly is even more urgent now,” he said.

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