"The island was probably one to two thousand years old and we were only there in July, so for it to be lost right now is pretty bad luck", Fletcher said.
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Experts believe the remote island will gradually disappear, due to global warming bringing about more tropical storms and rising sea levels. Green sea turtles, which are also threatened, and seabirds such as albatrosses, which often had their young preyed upon by circling tiger sharks, also depended on the island.
A news release from the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument confirmed "significant changes" to parts of the French Frigate Shoals in the wake of Walaka, which was a Category 4 hurricane with winds near 220 km/h when it swept across the chain on October 3.
There are thought to be just 1,400 individual Hawaiian monk seals, meaning they are classified as critically endangered. Officials said it was unclear if the 11-acre plot of sand that once was home to a U.S. Coast Guard radar station until the early 1950s would ever return. They were trying to determine the age of the island and determine its future, particularly in regard to climate change.
"I was absolutely shocked", Randy Kosaki, NOAA's deputy superintendent of research and field operations for the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument told the Washington Post. "It's not a hoax propagated in China as some folks have said".
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East Island was only a half-mile long and 400 feet wide, but it was the second-largest island in the French Frigate Shoals.
Bill McKibben, co-founder of 350.org, concurred that the island's disappearance is a warning to humanity.
A statement by the federal managers of the monument said that East Island "appears to be under water", while the neighboring Tern island had its shape altered by the hurricane.
US Fish and Wildlife Service and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration staff flew over the area on the weekend to photograph any impacts from the hurricane.
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