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Published:February 22nd, 2006 13:14 EST
Reefs May Mitigate Tsunami Damage

Reefs May Mitigate Tsunami Damage

By Leon (Producer) Leon

Given the critical role of coral reefs in providing food and livelihoods for millions of people, scientists rushed to complete an assessment of the coral reefs along those coastlines especially hard-hit by the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. This report, entitled Status of Coral Reefs in Tsunami Affected Countries: 2005, was launched February 20, 2006 in Phuket, Thailand, in conjunction with the UNESCO-IOC/WESTPAC conference on Post-Disaster Assessment and Monitoring of Coastal Ecosystems. Funded in part by the United States, the new report reveals that many of the coral reef ecosystems in the region were surprisingly resilient to the effects of the tsunami, and were also largely responsible for protecting other marine systems from the ravages of the tsunami.

The major findings of the 60 authors and contributors to Status of Coral Reefs in Tsunami Affected Countries: 2005 include:

  • Damage to the coral reefs in the Indian Ocean was patchy, site dependent and heavily influenced by local environmental conditions;
  • Most of the coral reefs of the region escaped serious damage and will naturally recover within 5 to 10 years providing that effective management is implemented to reduce damage from human activities;
  • A small number of coral reefs were significantly damaged and may take 20 or more years to recover; and they may not return to the previous structure;
  • Most of the damage to coral reefs resulted from sediment and coral rubble thrown about by the waves, and smothering by debris washed off the land;
  • The coral reefs absorbed some of the tsunami energy, possibly providing some protection to the adjacent land, although mangroves and coastal forests afforded the most protection to infrastructure on the land and probably reduced the loss of life in these areas.

The International Coral Reef Initiative (ICRI), of which the United States is a founding partner, requested the report on the post-tsunami status of coral reefs from its operational networks, the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network, Reef Check, ReefBase, and the Coral Reef Degradation in the Indian Ocean (CORDIO). In addition to providing information on the effects of the tsunami, the report seeks to raise awareness of the critical role that coastal resources play in the lives of many people in the impacted areas and offers recommendations on how to mitigate similar disasters in the future, including the need for an early warning system and greater attention to sound coastal and fisheries management.

Source: U.S. State Dept.