Indonesia’s coral reefs damaged by the 2004 tsunami are recovering rapidly, helped by natural colonization and a drop in illegal fishing, scientists said Friday.
Surveys taken after the Dec. 26, 2004, disaster showed up to a third of reefs were damaged and experts predicted it would take a decade for full recovery.
Scientists from the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society, working with the Indonesian government and the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, said their examination of 60 sites on 497 miles (800 kilometers) of coastline along Indonesia’s Aceh province showed the reefs were bouncing back.
“On the 4th anniversary of the tsunami, this is a great story of ecosystem resilience and recovery,” said Dr. Stuart Campbell, coordinator of the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Indonesia Marine Program.
“Our scientific monitoring is showing rapid growth of young corals in areas where the tsunami caused damage, and also the return of new generations of corals in areas previously damaged by destructive fishing,” Campbell said in a statement. “These findings provide new insights into coral recovery processes that can help us manage coral reefs in the face of climate change.”
A massive earthquake off Sumatra triggered the tsunami, which killed more than 230,000 people along the Indian Ocean coastline – more than half in Indonesia.
Reef studies after the disaster found up to 30 percent of reefs were damaged in Indonesia, Thailand, India and Sri Lanka. The study predicted they would recover in 10 years, but much depended on efforts to control illegal fishing, pollution and coastal development.
In the case of Aceh, Campbell said communities have responded to the maritime conservation calls to protect the reefs. Fishermen have stopped using illegal techniques like dynamite and villagers have transplanted corals into areas that were hardest hit.
“The recovery, which is in part due to improved management and the direct assistance of local people, gives enormous hope that coral reefs in this remote region can return to their previous condition and provide local communities with the resources they need to prosper,” Campbell said.
Healthy coral reefs are economic engines for Acehnese communities, Campbell added, supplying fish to eat and sell as well as tourism dollars from recreational diving.
Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, a reef expert from the University of Queensland who did not take part in the study, said the findings were not surprising since corals typically will recover if not affected by fishing and coastal development.
“The mechanical damage from the tsunami left a whole bunch of shattered corals on the bottom of the sea,” Hoegh-Guldberg said.
“Left alone, these things can quickly grow back into what looks like a coral reef in a short time,” he said. “We are seeing similar things around the southern Great Barrier Reef where reefs that experience major catastrophe can bounce back quite quickly.”
John Bruno, a reef expert from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, agreed saying it shows coral reefs are able to recover after severe disturbances.
“There has been so much bad news about coral decline lately, and the threats to corals seem to increase every year. It is important to recognize that these invaluable ecosystems are not lost,” he said in an e-mai interview. “We just have to implement some common sense policies locally and substantially reduce emissions of greenhouse gases at a global scale.”
Surce: The Associated Press – December 26, 2008
By. Michael Casey – Bangkok