Coral reefs and mangroves act as natural barriers against tsunamis

Posted on January, 04 2005

WWF extends its deepest sympathies to those who have lost families and friends in the recent tsunami that struck the Asian region, including WWF staff and partner organizations, and to those who are now in the process of rebuilding their lives.
Gland, Switzerland - The recent earthquake and tsunami that struck the Asian region is a reminder of the vulnerability of coastal communities in the face of unexpected natural disasters and of the tragic human costs and social, ecological, and economic impacts of such events. 

WWF extends its deepest sympathies to those who have lost families and friends, including WWF staff and partner organizations, and to those who are now in the process of rebuilding their lives.  

In Aceh, one WWF-Indonesia staff member is still missing, and one project has been affected by the Tsunami. Local staff are currently involved in emergency relief operations, with WWF’s field office in Banda Aceh now functioning as a coordination post for emergency relief.

"It has been a difficult moment for us organizationally and individually to some staff," said Mubariq Ahmand, CEO of WWF-Indonesia. "We are encouraged, however, from the support we have been getting."

In Jarkata, several WWF staff members met with the Indonesian Minister of Environment to discuss ways of assisting in the medium- and long-term recovery process.

All WWF staff working in India’s Andaman Islands and along the coastal regions of Chennai and Kerala are reported to be safe. They are currently assessing damage and the environmental impacts of several projects, including those involving devastated fishing communities along the coast. 
Also in India, the country’s Supreme Court has relaxed its order banning the felling of trees from forests, allowing for the immediate use of timber for rehabilitation of tsunami victims in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. The timber harvested would be used for reconstruction and repairing houses, setting up relief camps, and the repair of public infrastructure and buildings. The order will be in effect for six months and will not affect forests within 1,000 metres of the sea, the island’s national park, and coastal mangrove forests

WWF stresses that maintaining good environmental services, such as forests, mangroves, and reefs, can contribute to a community’s welfare in times of crisis.
“Natural disasters cannot be prevented,” said Isabelle Louis, Director of WWF International’s Asia-Pacific Programme.

“However there may be ways to minimize the threat such disasters pose to coastal communities, to facilitate effective reconstruction, and to mitigate the social and ecological vulnerability of high risk areas.” 
“Education programmes and early warning systems will significantly reduce the number of human casualties, but it will only be through careful coastal and land-use planning that the economic and social costs of such disasters can be kept to a minimum,” she added. 
Tropical coastal ecosystems have sophisticated natural insurance mechanisms to help them survive the storm waves of typhoons and tsunamis. Coral reefs provide a physical barrier that reaches the sea surface, causing waves to break offshore and allowing them to dissipate most of their destructive energy before reaching the shore, while mangroves soak up destructive wave energy and acts as a buffer against erosion. Marshes, tidal inlets, and mangrove channels also contribute to limiting the extent of inundation by floodwaters and allow for such waters to drain quickly. 

According to reports from WWF-India's office in Andhra Pradesh, mangroves and coastal vegetation helped protect the coast and saved lives. Many fishermen, for example, took shelter in the Coringa Mangroves when the tsunami hit and survived.
“Places that had healthy coral reefs and intact mangroves were far less badly hit than places where the reefs had been damaged and the mangroves ripped out and replaced by beachfront hotels and prawn farms,” said Simon Cripps, Director of WWF’s Global Marine Programme. 
“Coral reefs act as a natural breakwater and mangroves are a natural shock absorber, and this applies to floods and cyclones as well as tsunamis.” 
WWF is continuing to assist in the tsunami relief operations, and is providing its knowledge and expertise to support the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), which has been tasked with undertaking a full environmental assessment of this natural disaster.
• WWF International Director General Dr Claude Martin has established a CHF10,000 Emergency Fund from the Director General’s contingency fund with the purpose of enabling affected WWF programmes and projects and helping local partners in rebuilding infrastructure, re-establishing operations, undertaking assessments, and reviving community-based partner activities. Since the emergency fund was announced WWF-Sweden has matched this emergency fund with an additional CHF10,000. Other offices in the WWF Network are in the process of making similar pledges of support.

For further information:
Dermot O'Gorman, Deputy Director
WWF International, Asia Pacific Programme
Tel: +41 22 364 9262
A mangrove tree forest, such as this one in Irian Jaya, Indonesia, can help protect against future tsunamis.
© WWF / Ronald Petocz