Acapulco, Mexico – Hurricane Otis, which struck the Mexican Pacific coast in October 2023, has left a devastating footprint on Acapulco and surrounding areas, as revealed by new NASA satellite imagery.
The photos, taken before and after Otis made landfall, showcase a stark transformation of Acapulco’s once lush, green landscapes into barren, brown terrain.
Lead Up to the Storm
Otis rapidly intensified from a tropical storm into the strongest hurricane on record to impact Mexico’s Pacific coastline. Packing winds upwards of 250 km/h, the Category 4 hurricane slammed Acapulco on October 25, 2023. The storm’s wrath devastated infrastructure, and buildings and tragically resulted in at least 47 confirmed fatalities.
While much attention centered on damage to urban areas, NASA’s satellite images have uncovered Otis’ invisible yet equally damaging toll on Acapulco’s forests and vegetation.
NASA Reveals Widespread Damage to Ecosystem
The NASA images focus on Acapulco’s coastline and surrounding mountain slopes. Pre-hurricane photos showcase lush green forests and vegetation. However, post-Otis images reveal a shockingly different story – most of the region’s flora was stripped bare and replaced by barren brown terrain.
“The landscape near the city changes, and the vegetation, once green and lush, looks brown,” NASA said in a statement. “Sediment runoff from excess rainfall can still be seen in Tres Palos Lagoon almost a week after the storm.”
Jess Zimmerman, an ecology professor at the University of Puerto Rico, analyzed the images and concluded Otis undoubtedly caused the vegetation damage.
Why the Ecosystem Took a Hit
Hurricanes often damage coastal ecosystems, according to experts. The dangerous mix of heavy winds and rain stresses trees and vegetation. Foliage is stripped away by gusts exceeding 250 km/h in Otis’ case. The softened, rain-soaked ground also contributes to uprooting tree roots.
NASA notes that vegetation at higher elevations and on steep mountain slopes near Acapulco suffered the most damage due to increased exposure to Otis’ extreme winds.
The Aftermath: An Ecosystem In Crisis
While Acapulco’s buildings and infrastructure can be rebuilt, its ecosystem faces a more challenging path to recovery. The regions’ forests provide natural protection from future storms, regulate the climate, and support biodiversity and human livelihoods. Their devastation by Otis, therefore, has troubling long-term implications.
Zimmerman warns it could be months or years before Acapulco’s forests resemble their former state – if they ever fully recover. Sadly, the story echoes previous disasters like Hurricane Maria’s damage to Puerto Rico’s El Yunque National Forest in 2017.
Before and After Hurricane Otis
In the wake of Hurricane Otis’ shockingly severe impact on Acapulco’s people and environment, many urgent questions remain. How extensively have forests been damaged, and which species are most threatened? Can restoration efforts successfully rehabilitate the delicate coastal ecosystems? What steps need to be taken to improve resilience against future disasters?
While the path forward remains uncertain, the NASA images provide an alarming glimpse of the true scope of destruction left by Otis. Beyond the city, Acapulco’s landscape and natural ecosystems may forever be transformed by climate change’s intensifying wrath.