Accounts of the tsunami that killed over a quarter of a million people in Southeast Asia on the 26th of December, 2004, slowly disappear from the media, but the event is nevertheless heavily burned into the memories of those who are directly involved. In the aftermath of the disaster, academics and politicians alike are trying to investigate how the number of casualties could have been reduced and, more important, how such severe damage can be avoided if a tsunami ever strikes again. In an essay published this week in the June 21 issue of Current Biology, a group of researchers recount the first findings arising from their recent assessment of how mangrove ecosystems might have influenced the tsunamis impacts on coastal communities.
Credit: Farid Dahdouh-Guebas
The research represents a collaborative effort, with participants from the Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Belgium; the University of Ruhuna, Sri Lanka; the Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute; and the Institut Français de Pondichéry, India.
Mangrove greenbelts were known to offer some protection against destructive ocean events, such as tsunamis and (far more frequently) tropical cyclones, but they have not always been valued for that function. Economic and political interference, driven by short-term benefit, has been responsible for the destruction of thousands of hectares of mangrove forest (e.g., in East Africa, on the Indian subcontinent, and in Banda Aceh, Indonesia), resulting in the loss of the natural, protective "dyke" function of mangroves in addition to the loss of other services that mangroves provide to local economies and ecosystems. Although many politicians, journalists, and scientists have made post-tsunami statements about the barrier function of mangroves, most have failed to recognize that this function has never actually been investigated in detail.
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