Coral Reefs In Indian Ocean Should Bounce Back Quickly From Tsunami Effects

News Photo 2487
Aerial photos of Indonesian coast before and after tsunami.
Jan. 13, 2005

by Judy Long

Geographer Jennifer Rahn, a Baylor University assistant professor whose principle research focus is coral reefs, says the Dec. 26 tsunami in the Indian Ocean did not cause as much damage to the coral reefs as watchers initially feared. She said the reefs could take a couple of decades to recover, or they could bounce back in as quickly as one or two years. "There are lots of coral reefs in the Indian Ocean, and they have adapted to pounding by hurricanes."

Rahn said the latest reports indicate the destruction to the reefs is less than anticipated, though in some places the reefs may range from five to 50 percent damaged, depending on the location.

"Most of the damage consists of reefs covered with debris--refrigerators, doors and other garbage that has to be removed. Up to 100 scuba diving volunteers a day are out cleaning off the coral," she said.

Rahn said shrimp farms sustained extensive damage, so Asian shrimp prices will likely be high for awhile. "Some environmentalists think sea turtles may have sustained considerable damage, but these reports haven't been confirmed."

The greatest damage was to the fishing industry with the destructionof boats and fishing equipment, but there might be a silver lining to that. "The areas are so over-fished, this could give the fisheries a chance to restock," she said.

Other sea life suffered little damage. "Almost no fish or marine life have washed up on the shores, with the exception of a number of groupers, and they could have come from the aquaculture ponds that were wiped out," Rahn said.

Rahn said the tsunami was caused by a geologic plate shifting upward. "The two tectonic plates involved in the movement were the Burma plate and the Indian plate. In the quake, the Burma plate shifted up to 50 feet upward. That's what caused the tsunami."

For more information, contact Rahn at (254) 710-2361 or Jennifer_Rahn@baylor.edu.

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