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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Courtesy of Macy's

In many ways, 18-year-old Idaho native, Hank Cazier, is like any other teenager you've met. He loves chocolate, pop music, and playing games with his family. He has lofty dreams of modeling for a major clothing company one day. But one thing that sets him apart may also jeopardize his future is his recent battle against a brain tumor.

Cazier was diagnosed in 2015. When he had surgery to remove the tumor, he received trauma to his brain and lost some of his motor functionality. He's been in physical, occupational, and speech therapy ever since. The experience impacted Cazier's confidence and self-esteem, so he's been looking for a way to build himself back up again.

"I wanted to do something that helped me look forward to the future," he says.

Enter Make-A-Wish, a nonprofit organization that grants wishes for children battling critical illnesses, providing them a chance to make the impossible possible. The organization partnered with Macy's to raise awareness and help make those wishes a reality. The hope is that the "wish effect" will improve their quality of life and empower them with the strength they need to overcome these illnesses and look towards the future. That was a particularly big deal for Cazier, who had been feeling like so many of his wishes weren't going to be possible because of his critical illness.

"In the beginning, it was hard to accept that it would be improbable for me to accomplish my previous goals because my illness took away so many of my physical abilities," says Cazier. His wish of becoming a model also seemed out of reach.

But Macy's and Make-A-Wish didn't see it like that. Once they learned about Cazier's wish, they knew he had to make it come true by inviting him to be part of the magical Macy's holiday shoot in New York.

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Make-A-Wish can't fulfill children's wishes without the generosity of donors and partners like Macy's. In fact, since 2003, Macy's has given more than $122 million to Make-A-Wish and impacted the lives of more than 2.9 million people.

Cazier's wish experience was beyond what he could've imagined, and it filled him with so much joy and confidence. "It is like waking up and discovering that you have super powers. It feels amazing!" he exclaims.

One of the best parts about the day for him was the kindness everyone who helped make it happen showed him.

"The employees of Macy's and Make-A-Wish made me feel welcome, warm, and cared for," he says. "I am truly grateful that even though they were busy doing their jobs, they were able to show kindness and compassion towards me in all of the little details."

He also got to spend part of the shoot outdoors, which, as someone who loves climbing, hiking, and scuba-diving but has trouble doing those activities now, was very welcome.

Courtesy of Macy's

Overall, Cazier feels he grew a lot during his modeling wish and is now emboldened to work towards a better quality of life. "I want to acquire skills that help me continue to improve in these circumstances," he says.

You can change the lives of more kids like Cazier just by writing a letter to Santa and dropping it in the big red letterbox at Macy's (you can also write and submit one online). For every letter received before Dec. 24, 2019, Macy's will donate $1 to Make-A-Wish, up to $1 million. By writing a letter to Santa, you can help a child replace fear with confidence, sadness with joy, and anxiety with hope.

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