Magazine article Geographical

Counting the Tsunami's Cost to Coral Reefs

Magazine article Geographical

Counting the Tsunami's Cost to Coral Reefs

Article excerpt

Last year's Indian Ocean tsunami has focused the media spotlight on several geographical issues, including natural hazards, population displacement and redevelopment. One aspect that is only now beginning to receive the same treatment is the impact that the disaster has had on reef systems and local communities. "There's almost no detailed information about the tsunami's impacts on corals," says leading scientist Dr Tom Spencer of Cambridge University. "We need to know about these impacts and incorporate them into strategies for rebuilding both the ecosystems and the communities that depend upon them."

There is cause for a certain amount of optimism, according to James Comely of Coral Cay Conservation (CCC). "Reef systems have been around for many millennia and are resilient to events such as tsunamis," he says. However, early assessments have highlighted areas where susceptible shallow reef colonies have been overturned.

And it wasn't simply the mechanical action of the waves themselves that damaged reefs. "Human debris such as fabrics and plastics will remain on the coral for months, causing reef loss through dragging with the wave movement," says Kristian Teleki from the International Coral Reef Action Network (ICRAN), a global partnership of coral reef experts.

The reef damage can have far-reaching impacts. Teleki and Comely both point to the huge concern for local communities where fishing activities have suffered, and to the important role that the reefs play in protecting coastal areas by acting as a natural barrier and absorbing wave energy.

Spencer, the CCC and ICRAN are all involved in post-tsunami monitoring efforts, and CCC scientists are currently in Bangkok attending a series of meetings organised by the Thai government. …

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