Some of coral reefs battered, others untouched by tsunami
Published: Tuesday, 26 April, 2005, 11:44 AM Doha Time
COLOMBO: The tsunamis which smashed into Sri Lanka in December last year battered some of the island’s famed coral reefs to bits but left others untouched, environmentalists say.
Based on a preliminary survey carried out recently of eastern and northeastern Sri Lanka, some reefs have been badly broken and may take years to recover, said Udaya Lingane, consultant for the Green Movement of Sri Lanka non-governmental organisation. Others, however, have escaped virtually unscathed, he said.
Lingane and two other members of the Norwegian-funded NGO travelled along the coast from Panama in the east up to Oluvil in the northeast studying the environmental impact of the December 26 tsunamis, which killed close on 31,000 Sri Lankans and initially left around a million homeless.
“We found that in parts the coral reef was badly damaged but in other parts it seems to have not been touched,” Lingane said.
The reef between the towns of Passikudah and Kalkudah, north of the main town of Batticaloa, for example, he said, had been ripped up by the giant waves.
“Coral has been washed up all along the beach - some of it as far as 500 metres inland. At low tide when you walk out a bit the floor of the ocean is covered in broken coral.”
At Uppuveli, north of Trincomalee, the coral has been turned upside down and submerged under mounds of sand dumped by the tsunamis, Lingane said.
At Arugam Bay, where some of lanka’s finest corals are to be found, however, not much damage appears to have been done although a proper assessment is still needed, he said.
The Green Movement of Sri Lanka’s findings seem to tally with preliminary assessments by other marine biologists.
Jerker Tamelander, marine programme co-ordinator of the World Conservation Union in Sri Lanka, told the BBC damage to the corals was apparently less than first feared.
“One thing is that damage is very patchy. It varies a lot, from one area to another, and it varies a lot within a certain area,” Tamelander said.
“A lot of the mechanical damage seems to have been caused by boats washing over coral reefs, and in turn pushing over large boulders, so there’s very site-specific damage,” he said.
Diving instructor Chami Sembakattige, who runs a diving school at the southwest resort town of Hikkaduwa, said the coral reefs there had not been badly affected.
“We haven’t seen much damage and we’ve been diving for a while since the tsunami,” he said, adding that visibility had now cleared from about one metre immediately after the tsunami to about eight to 10 metres now.
Other environmentalists have warned that sediment and debris has been washed from the land and back into the sea, which could suffocate the highly diverse and complex corals.
Built by coral polyps and symbiotic algae, corals need clear waters to survive, according to UN Environment Programme (UNEP) experts, who add that they are unlikely to survive if deprived of sunshine.
UNEP in a report on the environmental impact of the tsunamis in Indonesia, found that 30% of 97,250 hectares of coral reefs there had been damaged. – AFP