Nature

After Asian Tsunami

Nature

The tsunami that struck Indonesia in 2004 obliterated vast areas of Aceh province. But villagers there are using an innovative microcredit scheme to restore mangrove forests and other coastal ecosystems that will serve as a natural barrier against future killer waves and storms.Блоки погреба

Mangrove-workers-Indonesia-CIFOR-CC-640px

The 5 million euro Green Coast project has given the people of Gle Jong something to believe in for the future. The trees are bringing a return of nature. Birds flock in the cool new forests. The ponds around the mangroves have become feeding areas for shrimp and crabs. “We thought we had lost the green turtles from the beach, but a few are now returning,” said Hajamuddin.

The 2004 tsunami was caused by an earthquake in the seabed beneath the Indian Ocean, off the western shore of Sumatra, the westernmost island of Indonesia. The geological movement created a series of giant waves that battered coasts for thousands of miles. Of the 230,000 people thought to have died, almost three-quarters were in Aceh, mostly on its west coast.

As the tidal wave dissipated, some 60,000 hectares of rice fields were left flooded with salt water and piled with sand. In many places, the water never retreated. Along most of western Aceh, the earthquake caused land subsidence that left the new coastline 200 to 400 meters further inland than before. Rice paddies, coconut groves, mangroves, and entire villages became part of the seabed.

A massive international rehabilitation program followed the disaster. Wetlands International was among a handful of foreign aid agencies to target ecological rehabilitation of coastal ecosystems. The first aim was to put back the old mangrove swamps.

Mangroves grow in partially flooded sediments along thousands of kilometers of the world’s tropical coastlines. They nurture fish and protect against coastal erosion by accumulating sediment and absorbing the energy of waves and winds. They also store carbon and clean up pollution. And yet mangroves worldwide are being lost at a rate of around 1 percent a year — several times faster than the rate of deforestation on land. The coastline of Aceh has been no exception. The prime reason, as elsewhere, has been to create space in intertidal areas for lucrative aquaculture shrimp ponds.

Most of the mangrove swamps that remained around the shores of Aceh were destroyed or badly damaged by the 2004 tsunami. An estimated 30,000 hectares of mangroves succumbed, but in the process they captured and dissipated some of the tsunami’s energy and undoubtedly saved lives by providing protection for people living behind them. Those without mangrove swamps suffered worst.

So ecological rehabilitation became a priority. But first efforts often foundered, with only a fraction of plants surviving, according to a 2006 study by Wetland International’s Indonesian director Nyoman Suryadiputra, my host in Aceh last month.

One reason was that busy and distracted villagers were paid for planting seedlings rather than for nurturing them thereafter. Many swiftly succumbed to the waves or to the wild boar, which came down from the hills after the tsunami to root around in the depopulated landscape. Others never stood a chance. They were planted on the huge amounts of sand dumped by the tsunami onto previously muddy shorelines. Mangroves require mud. Planted on sand, even in places where they once thrived, mangroves swiftly died. So the Green Coast project aimed to plant more carefully in places where mangroves would thrive, and to provide incentives for communities to take ownership of the trees and to maintain and protect them.

The tsunami that struck Indonesia in 2004 obliterated vast areas of Aceh province. But villagers there are using an innovative microcredit scheme to restore mangrove forests and other coastal ecosystems that will serve as a natural barrier against future killer waves and storms.Блоки погреба The 5 million euro Green Coast project has given the people of Gle Jong something to believe in for the future. The trees are bringing a return of nature. Birds flock in the cool new forests. The ponds around the mangroves have become feeding areas for shrimp and crabs. “We thought we had lost the green turtles from the beach, but a few are now returning,” said Hajamuddin. The 2004 tsunami was caused by an earthquake in the seabed beneath the Indian Ocean, off the western shore of Sumatra, the westernmost island of Indonesia. The geological movement created a series of giant waves that battered coasts for thousands of miles. Of the 230,000 people thought to have died, almost three-quarters were in Aceh, mostly on its west coast. As the tidal wave dissipated, some 60,000 hectares of rice fields were left flooded with salt water and piled with sand. In many places, the water never retreated. Along most of western Aceh, the earthquake caused land subsidence that left the new coastline 200 to 400 meters further inland than before. Rice paddies, coconut groves, mangroves, and entire villages became part of the seabed. A massive international rehabilitation program followed the disaster. Wetlands International was among a handful of foreign aid agencies to target ecological rehabilitation of coastal ecosystems. The first aim was to put back the old mangrove swamps. Mangroves grow in partially flooded sediments along thousands of kilometers of the world’s tropical coastlines. They nurture fish and protect against coastal erosion by accumulating sediment and absorbing the energy of waves and winds. They also store carbon and clean up pollution. And yet mangroves worldwide are being lost at a rate of around 1 percent a year — several times faster than the rate of deforestation on land. The coastline of Aceh has been no exception. The prime reason, as elsewhere, has been to create space in intertidal areas for lucrative aquaculture shrimp ponds. Most of the mangrove swamps that remained around the shores of Aceh were destroyed or badly damaged by the 2004 tsunami. An estimated 30,000 hectares of mangroves succumbed, but in the process they captured and dissipated some of the tsunami’s energy and undoubtedly saved lives by providing protection for people living behind them. Those without mangrove swamps suffered worst. So ecological rehabilitation became a priority. But first efforts often foundered, with only a fraction of plants surviving, according to a 2006 study by Wetland International’s Indonesian director Nyoman Suryadiputra, my host in Aceh last month. One reason was that busy and distracted villagers were paid for planting seedlings rather than for nurturing them thereafter. Many swiftly succumbed to the waves or to the wild boar, which came down from the hills after the…

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