Tsunami-Hit Nations Look To Save Mangroves
Author: David Fogarty
More than 162,000 died in the Dec. 26 quake and tsunami disaster in which waves up to 10 metres (33 ft) crashed into coastlines along many Indian Ocean nations.
In some areas, such as the Maldives, coral reefs took the full force of the waves, limiting the damage on land. In other places, mangrove forests helped save lives and limit damage to buildings by acting as a giant dampener, environmentalists say.
"Mangroves in Ranong and Phang Nga saved hundreds of people," said Maitree Duangsawasdi, head of the Department of Marine and Coastal Resources, referring to two of Thailand's six affected provinces in which thousands of people died.
"We need to rebuild those that were damaged and plant more of them and other trees like pines and coconuts along the coastline," he said, adding that his department would finish a rehabilitation plan for mangroves and coral reefs next week.
Malaysia has said it wanted mangrove forests protected from development because they acted as a natural barrier against tsunamis, while Indonesia this week announced a massive mangrove reforestation project.
"The mangroves are extremely important in forming an effective barrier against any type of wave," said John Pernetta, project director for the United Nations Environment Programme's Global Environment Facility in the South China Sea.
"It takes the energy out of the wave, so while the forest itself will be trashed, it will protect the infrastructure behind it."
Mangroves also seen as crucial protection against storm surges, walls of water pushed inland by typhoons as they approach the coast. In 1999, thousands of people died in the eastern Indian state of Orissa when a powerful typhoon generated tidal waves up to 8 metres high.
Indian environmentalists say the destruction of large areas of mangroves contributed to the high death toll and damage.
In Indonesia, where more than 110,000 people are known to have died in last month's tsunami, the government is looking at turning some residential areas in Aceh province into mangrove forests to counter the effects of future tsunamis.
Forestry Minister Malam Sambat Kaban told Reuters on Friday Indonesia had lost about 650,000 hectares (1.65 million acres) of mangroves over the past several decades -- or about 30 percent of its total. The government wanted to revive coastal and riverine forests ripped out to build commercial fish farms.
"The tsunami in Aceh made us see the need to speed up this (replanting) process. In Aceh, especially the west and north coast, 30,000 hectares need reforestation," he said.
In Sri Lanka, where more than 30,000 people died, A.H.M. Fowzie, Minister of Environment and Natural Resources, said his ministry would look at drawing up laws that would ban further destruction of mangroves and beach dunes and also to introduce laws compelling developers to replant and build artificial reefs.
"It is definitely clear that some mangroves were damaged, but it is also clear that they also helped prevent further damage in areas where they still exists," he said. At a meeting of small island nations in Mauritius this week, Claude Martin, WWF director-general, said tsunami-affected nations needed to look at protecting and rehabilitating coastlines as part of reconstruction efforts.
He also said typhoons, which occur often in Asia, are expected to become more powerful because of global warming.
Pernetta said about 80 percent of mangrove forests on Thailand's eastern seaboard have been destroyed in the last few decades, most of it as a result of small-scale shrimp-farming.
The situation on the west coast, hit by the tsunami, was much better, with only about 20 percent destruction.
But Vietnam, which has cleared a lot of mangroves along its South China Sea coast, which is frequently hit by storms, was trying to reverse this process by planting mangroves, he said.
Environmentalists in India, where