Because coral reefs are dying from rising ocean temperatures, increasing ocean acidity, and direct human damage, Oppenheimer said the findings offer yet another reason to protect these fragile offshore ecosystems.
"This study shows yet another way that protecting the environment relates to humanity in a very tangible way," he said. "Villages get built behind coral reefs for good reasons, and this is one of them."
Kunkel said that she hoped the study would inspire other scientists to continue the research by obtaining more observational data. Incorporating such data into the team's theoretical model, she said, would then allow scientists to plan better for future tsunami strikes along local coastlines.
"We now have a basic idea of what variables are important, but if you want to quantify the effectiveness of a barrier reef around a particular island, you'd want to model that island directly," Kunkel said.