Longstreet Highroad Guide to the Florida Keys & Everglades
By Rick Ferren
When Hurricane Georges passed over Key West in September of 1998, it changed the landscape of the Lower Keys. The farther you travel along the string of islands towards Key West, the more evident the damage caused by the storm becomes. You'll see trees leaning in one direction with their tops missing, yards with little or no landscaping, and campgrounds with a lack of shade.
Many Keys residents lost their homes to wind or flooding. Many houses suffered severe roof damage. Electricity was out for weeks. State parks and recreation areas were closed for months.
Although hurricanes are part of the natural environment and the damage they cause to flora and fauna of the islands in seldom permanent, it still can take years to recover. On land, acres and acres of mangroves and tropical hammock trees were knocked down by Georges. On the reefs, some large structures were pushed over and branching corals were heavily damaged in some areas. Before and after photos of patches of elk-horn corals show a pile of rubble where a beautiful branching garden once stood.
Volunteers with the nonprofit reef protection organization, Reef Relief, have been righting, stabilizing, and reattaching hundreds and hundreds of living coral formations throughout the Lower Keys.