October 28, 2005 | David F. Coppedge

It’s Official: Mangroves Would Have Prevented Most Tsunami Damage

EurekAlert summarized a paper in Science1 that confirmed an earlier claim (02/10/2005) that intact mangrove forests along the Asian coastlines would have prevented the bulk of damage and death from last year’s mega-tsunami.  A large, diverse research team from seven nations estimated that more than 90% of the damage could have been prevented by the buffer effect of mangrove forests absorbing the wave energy.  See also Science News,2 that said that in areas of maximum tsunami intensity, little could have prevented catastrophic destruction; but areas hit by 4- to 5-meter waves were modest enough for vegetation to make a difference.
    Mangroves grow naturally in coastline thickets about 30 trees per 100 square meters, but have been drastically reduced by business interests to the point of becoming an endangered species.  The cleared coastlines were among the hardest hit by the waves.  For instance, two shoreline villages unprotected by mangroves in India were obliterated, whereas three other villages behind a screen of mangroves hundreds of meters thick survived.
    The affected nations are now looking again at restoring this natural protection zone, this “living dyke,” realizing that mangroves will not only provide defense from the next extreme storm surge, but also enrich local fisheries and habitats of many native species.

1Danielson et al., “The Asian Tsunami: A Protective Role for Coastal Vegetation,” Science, Vol 310, Issue 5748, 643, 28 October 2005, [DOI: 10.1126/science.1118387].
2Ben Harder, “Breaking Waves: Mangroves shielded parts of coast from tsunami,” Science News, Week of Oct. 29, 2005; Vol. 168, No. 18, p. 276.

Famous last words: “Look at this mess of trees blocking our view of the sea.  How are we supposed to get our boats on the water through all that tangled up wood in the way?  Those mangroves are such a pain.  Cut ’em all down.  I’ll start a fishery, and Sam, think of all the money you could make with a beach resort hotel over there.”

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Categories: Botany

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