Biodiversity in Belize
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Hurricane Iris

In the evening hours of Monday October 8, 2001. Hurricane Iris hit the south of Belize.
The hurricane made landfall near Independence in the Stann Creek district. At that stage Iris demonstrated sustained winds of over 140 mph. From Independence, Iris moved in a WSW course and left Belize less than two hours after landfall.
The resulting destruction was immense as was to be expected from a hurricane of this
strength. What was immediately clear though, was the relatively narrow path of the
hurricane. Iris was a “small” but extremely powerful hurricane. Unusual was also the
very discrete path of destruction. In total approximately 775,000 acres (310,000 ha)
appear to have been severely affected by the force of the hurricane.

Hurricane Iris path of destruction

The level of destruction within the affected area was dependent on the type of ecosystem. Most severely damaged were the lowland broadleaf forests, particularly near the coast. Hill forests were usually severely damaged on the windward side while seemingly unaffected on the leeward side. Savannas and pine forests appeared to be affected least of all, with most pine trees (Pinus caribaea) still standing and having a more or less intact crown. Other “tree” species with apparently a great resistance to the wind forces exerted here include the Palmetto (Acoelorraphe wrightii) and seemingly green and intact stands of this species stood out very clearly in savanna regions all along the coast. Another species with a great resistance appears to be the Royal Palm (Roystonea regia), although entirely leafless in the Monkey River area,
most boles of these palms were still standing.

The entire October 25, 2001 report by Jan Meerman can be downloaded as a *pdf file

Fires in Belize in area with hurricane damage

The long term effects of Hurricane Iris can best be described as fire risk. This mainly as the result of the large mass of dry, combustible material. The 1992 dry season was relatively benign and relatively few forest fires erupted in the areas affected by the hurricane. 1993 was not so lucky. Early May a milpa fire near Golden Stream escaped into the Golden Stream Corridor Preserve (Yaax Che) and quickly blossomed into a massive forest fire that crept northward into the hills of the Columbia River Forest Reserve. The satellite image to the left was taken on May 9, 2003, 16.45hr local time. Two smoke plumes are clearly visible in the Golden Stream/Columbia River areas.


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