Key Largo divers were nervous after Irma. But what they found is worth a smile.

Throughout September, Hurricanes Harvey, Jose, Irma, and Maria contributed to the largest amount of "Accumulated Cyclone Energy" tracked in a single month than any other time period on record. In Puerto Rico, millions of people are still reeling without basic necessities after Maria devastated the entire island.

If you live in the Caribbean or along the Gulf of Mexico, chances are that your life has been affected — if not entirely upended — by an unprecedented month of weather.

The hurricanes didn't destroy everything though.

A heartening update about the state of things on the ocean floor off Key Largo, Florida, is a rare piece of post-hurricane news where things did not go nearly as poorly as they could have.


Coral reef in Key Largo. Image via amanderson2/Flickr.

Powerful storms can wreak havoc on coral reefs, damaging marine life and devastating whole underwater ecosystems. So Billy Wise, general manager of Rainbow Reef Dive Center in Key Largo, was understandably concerned with what his divers would discover following Hurricane Irma.

Wise, however, was pleasantly surprised.

"The reefs look spectacular, compared to what we thought they would look like," he told The Miami Herald after divers scoured corals at several area reefs. Fortunately, "everything looks great."

Aside from a few areas of sand displacement — which, in effect, created new dive sites — hardly anything had been affected.

The storm even unearthed a buried treasure for divers to explore: an anchor from the SS Benwood, a sunken World War II freighter.

Photo by Shayna Cohen, courtesy of Rainbow Reef Dive Center.

Any sighs of relief, however, are bittersweet in the grand scheme of things.

Coral reefs tend to act as a natural buffer against powerful storms. But as waters warm due to increasing carbon levels in the atmosphere, those reefs disappear. That spells bad news for the coastal communities that tend to take more of the brunt from bad weather.

Scientists believe, for instance, that a dying, 360-mile Florida Reef Tract — of which just 10% is covered in living coral — made the effects of Hurricane Irma worse for Floridians.

When coral is damaged or destroyed by turbulent weather, it can make future storms even worse, creating a cycle that doesn't bode well for marine life or humans on the coast.  

Coral that's been bleached by an increasingly warm and acidic ocean is examined at the University of Miami. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images.

For now, the folks at Rainbow Reef Dive Center are just relieved the coral in their neck of the woods — er, ocean — is here another day.

"All in all, we’re ready and happy to be letting visitors come back in," Wise told the Miami Herald. "We have a great staff of 70 and we want to keep them here and working. ... People are going to be curious about what’s happening on the reef, and that will help rebuild the Keys economy."

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Shanda Lynn Poitra was born and raised on the Turtle Mountain Reservation in Belcourt, North Dakota. She lived there until she was 24 years old when she left for college at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks.

"Unfortunately," she says, "I took my bad relationship with me. At the time, I didn't realize it was so bad, much less, abusive. Seeing and hearing about abusive relationships while growing up gave me the mentality that it was just a normal way of life."

Those college years away from home were difficult for a lot of reasons. She had three small children — two in diapers, one in elementary school — as well as a full-time University class schedule and a part-time job as a housekeeper.

"I wore many masks back then and clothing that would cover the bruises," she remembers. "Despite the darkness that I was living in, I was a great student; I knew that no matter what, I HAD to succeed. I knew there was more to my future than what I was living, so I kept working hard."

While searching for an elective class during this time, she came across a one-credit, 20-hour IMPACT self-defense class that could be done over a weekend. That single credit changed her life forever. It helped give her the confidence to leave her abusive relationship and inspired her to bring IMPACT classes to other Native women in her community.

I walked into class on a Friday thinking that I would simply learn how to handle a person trying to rob me, and I walked out on a Sunday evening with a voice so powerful that I could handle the most passive attacks to my being, along with physical attacks."

It didn't take long for her to notice the difference the class was making in her life.

"I was setting boundaries and people were either respecting them or not, but I was able to acknowledge who was worth keeping in my life and who wasn't," she says.

Following the class, she also joined a roller derby league where she met many other powerful women who inspired her — and during that summer, she found the courage to leave her abuser.

"As afraid as I was, I finally had the courage to report the abuse to legal authorities, and I had the support of friends and family who provided comfort for my children and I during this time," she says.

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One little girl took pictures of her school lunches. The Internet responded — and so did the school.

If you listened to traditional news media (and sometimes social media), you'd begin to think the Internet and technology are bad for kids. Or kids are bad for technology. Here's a fascinating alternative idea.

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Norton

This article originally appeared on 03.31.15

Kids can innovate, create, and imagine in ways that are fresh and inspiring — when we "allow" them to do so, anyway. Despite the tendency for parents to freak out because their kids are spending more and more time with technology in schools, and the tendency for schools themselves to set extremely restrictive limits on the usage of such technology, there's a solid argument for letting them be free to imagine and then make it happen.

It's not a stretch to say the kids in this video are on the cutting edge. Some of the results he talks about in the video at the bottom are quite impressive.

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