Malaysiakini Letter

Tsunami a reminder of lifes fragility

SM Mohd Idris  |  Published:  |  Modified:

Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) views the recent tsunami catastrophe as a warning that the earth cannot take on any more abuse from man.

Damage and indiscriminate clearance of mangrove swamps and destruction to coral reefs all over Malaysia, India, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Indonesia were contributing factors to the enormous loss of life from killer tidal waves that hit the shores of Asian countries.

Scientists have observed that mangroves often serve as a barrier against the fury of water. When the tsunamis struck India's southern state of Tamil Nadu on Dec 26, for example, areas in Pichavaram and Muthupet with dense mangrove swamps suffered fewer human casualties and less damage to property compared to areas without mangroves.

Dense mangrove forests along the coasts of tropical and sub-tropical countries can help reduce the devastating impact of tsunamis and coastal storms by absorbing some of the waves' energy.

As well as acting as a barrier against tsunamis, cyclones and hurricanes, mangrove forests provide society with a range of other ecological services that include protection against coastal erosion besides being a source of timber, food and traditional medicines.

Sadly enough, in Asia over 400,000 hectares of mangrove forests have been cleared and converted into brackish water agriculture for the rearing of shrimps. Nowhere are the negative impacts on the natural environment more apparent than with shrimp fishing and the associated destruction of mangrove forests.

The same thing has been happening to coral reefs that provide protection to the coast. When a tsunami strikes, it first hits the coral reef which slows it down, then it hits the mangrove forest which further slows it down and by the time it reaches the coast, its energy has been dissipated.

For islands surrounded by coral reefs like Indonesia, fish bombing or fish blasting is the greatest threat to the archipelago reefs which is home to 25 percent of the world's fish species. Coral reefs are often blown up with explosives stunning all the fish swimming around them. This completely destroys the reefs, killing the coral polyps and the plants and animals.

Another way that divers catch coral reef fish is with cyanide. This stuns the fish and kills the coral. They then rip open the reef with crowbars and catch the fish which are too sick from the poison to swim away.

This poison kills 90 percent of the fish that live in the reef and the reef is completely destroyed both by the poison and by being ripped apart by crowbars.

Coral reefs and mangroves are of critical for ecological balance and for the protection of vulnerable coastlines because they slow tsunamis down and absorb much of their destructive energy.

The effects of the calamity of a tsunami are something which we actually bring unto ourselves. Human activities contribute to a tsunami's ravages. It is now time to consider how to minimise these ravages. Continued development requires more assessment of the coastline and the fish that feed it.

It is also time to consider how mankind impacts the ocean and how to minimise our negative impact on such an environment. The tsunami's sheer power serves to remind us how fragile we and the fragility of life on our planet.

The writer is the president of Sahabat Alam Malaysia.

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