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Could better mangrove habitats have spared lives in the 2004 tsunami?

s investigated the impact of the tsunami at 24 different mangrove sites, comparing the event's effects to the size, history, and quality of the local mangroves. The researchers found that where mangroves occur, they did in fact offer protection from the tsunami. Mangrove fringes near the water's edge appeared to take most of the energy from the tsunami waves, and they showed evidence of damage in some cases, but the researchers found few examples of mangrove trees actually being uprooted.

However, mangroves at numerous sites had experienced pre-tsunami degradation. This disruption, resulting from human impact, included "cryptic ecological degradation" (see also Current Biology, March 29, 2005), which involves subtle changes in species composition. From their assessments of the 24 coastal sites, the researchers concluded that even these seemingly minor alterations, which do not necessarily involve a reduction in mangrove area, have had a profound impact on the damage that the 2004 tsunami inflicted on the coastal zone. This puts the drastic clearing of mangroves, and the conversion of mangrove habitats to shrimp farms in other areas, into even starker perspective.

The authors highlight the urgent need for a union between management-driven research (research that specifically focuses on environmental aspects that need to be managed) and research-driven management (management that is based on facts from scientific research). The team emphasizes that an early-warning system for mangrove degradation should be seen as being as important for future protection as are early-warning systems for tsunami arrivals; the authors contend that if put in place, such ecological warning systems, along with the restoration of mangroves and other natural defenses, could be more effective in saving human lives and property.


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Source:Cell Press


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