Magazine article Oceanus

Agency Enlists WHOI Scientists to Help Restore a Devastated Port

Magazine article Oceanus

Agency Enlists WHOI Scientists to Help Restore a Devastated Port

Article excerpt

The Indian Ocean tsunami created a flood of challenges for international disaster relief and development organizations such as Mercy Corps. Consider the devastation in just one place, Meulaboh, an Indonesian coastal fishing town.

The tsunami killed an estimated 45,000 people there, about 15 percent of the population. It ruined most buildings in the town's port, overran inland rice paddies with sediments and salt water, and uprooted many key crop-bearing trees or drowned them with salt water. It washed away substantial shoreline regions, totally altered an estuary through which fishing boats access the sea from an upriver port, and destroyed a large portion of a sandbar at a river mouth.

"Meulaboh's lifeblood--its port--has disappeared as an operating entity," said Paul Dudley Hart, director-at-large for Mercy Corps. "We are now hauling and repairing boats swept inland, often by well more than a kilometer, and may soon start building new ones, but until they have a functioning port to come home to, the fleet has limited purpose. If we can help get the port rolling, we could play an enormously important role in resurrecting the fishing industry and all its ancillary enterprises--chandlers, ice factories, net-makers, markets."

A key to rebuilding the port is exploring changes to the seafloor and shoreline. "We needed to inform our relief and redevelopment decisions with sound science," Hart said. "To approach the disaster without benefit of scientific insight seemed illogical--hence our approach to WHOI. …

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