Hurricane Sandy, and the follow-up punch by our first nor’easter of the season only a few days later, has devastated many coastal communities. We have seen images of homes simply washed off the face of the beach, marinas and boardwalks completely destroyed, and shorelines scarred beyond recognition.
But this isn’t an isolated case when viewed on a large scale. In recent years, the news is full of stories of extreme weather phenomenon: giant hurricanes, massive floods, monster tornados and extreme drought followed by vast wild fires and devastating earthquakes with tsunamis. Could the Mayan calendar be right? Is this the end of the world? Hopefully not. Most scientists believe that climate change is to blame for the increased intensity of the world’s weather. We’ve already had a taste at how this might affect our everyday lives, but how might such change affect things here in the northeast in terms of fish and wildlife?
At first thought, you might welcome the idea of having a warmer winter, extended fall fishing, more comfortable winter cod fishing, and an early jump on the spring run. Don’t forget though, that our local wildlife is here at specific times of the year because that is when conditions are ideal for their needs. Many wintertime visitors to our region migrate here in search of food because it has become scarce under ice and snow further to the north. Warmer winters equal less ice and snow, meaning migrants do not have to travel as far south to find food, and might not need to go as far south as Connecticut, Long Island and New Jersey.
In recent years, there have been many stories making headlines about exotic tropical fish being caught locally. Although it sounds like the northeast is turning into Florida, these stories are generally not tied to global warming. For 20-plus years, I have been collecting tropical fish on Long Island. These fish drift to our area on the Gulf Stream, and have been doing so every summer since this current of water first started flowing northward. The species it brings, and their abundance, vary from year to year and can be affected by many natural factors. This summer, for instance, there were many large smooth puffers (a.k.a. “rabbit fish”) caught on Long Island and New Jersey waters. This seemed odd to many, but this was not the first summer I have seen them here.
Unfortunately for me and my tropical fish collecting buddies, this was one of the worst years for tropical fish that I can remember. You would think with our waters so warm the environment would be suitable for these exotics, but if the currents do not bring them here, they cannot experience a summer in the Hamptons.