Newswise — In the aftermath of last year's cataclysmic tsunami, Dr. Gregory Stone of the New England Aquarium co-led an expedition to survey the damage caused to Thailand's coral reefs. The expedition's results indicate a quick recovery for most of the reefs affected by the tsunami, as reported in a recently released technical report available on the New England Aquarium website and in December's issue of National Geographic.
Invaluable for their biological diversity, these affected coral reefs are a critical resource for millions of people in that region. Locally caught fish are a primary source of protein in their diet, and the dive tourism industry is a major part of the region's economy. The coral reefs there are among the most beautiful in the world.
An international team of eight scientist-divers, led by Dr. Gregory Stone of Boston and Dr. Gerald Allen of Australia, traveled to the coast of Thailand approximately three and a half months after the tsunami struck in order to rapidly assess the extent and degree of damage to reefs. Of the reefs assessed, 36 percent showed very little to no damage, while 50 percent showed a moderate amount of tsunami-related damage. Only 14 percent of the surveyed reefs had suffered severe damage.
The team discovered that the damage to reefs varied with water depth and local geography. The tsunami posed little threat to deep-water reefs in the open ocean, where its fast-moving waves were only a few feet tall. The most damage was suffered in large, shallow bays, which amplified the strength of the tsunami's waves. Coastal development often worsened the damage. In addition to the force of the waves, reefs near developed areas were also pounded by debris, including refrigerators, cars, roofs and much more.
Most of the region's reefs are expected to recover quickly, recreating the vibrant and diverse habitats typical of the region. Damaged coral formations can continue to grow, and even dead reefs may, in time, be recolonized by coral larvae. The scientific team concluded that the rare devastation of the tsunami was less of a long-term threat to the coral reefs than ongoing human-caused damage such as overfishing, poorly planned coastal development and global warming.
NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC ARTICLE: "After the Tsunami" appears in the December, 2005 issue. Below is a link.http://www7.nationalgeographic.com/ngm/0512/resources_geo.html
TECHNICAL REPORT: The complete report of the expedition can be viewed at the New England Aquarium website at:http://www.neaq.org/temp/tsunami_report.pdf
INTERVIEW AVAILABILTY: Dr. Stone is currently doing research in New Zealand. He is available by phone and via e-mail. Satellite TV interviews can be arranged in nearby Christchurch.
Alan Dynner, a participant and supporter of the expedition, also dove on the reefs. He is available here in Boston.
VIDEO IMAGES: An eight-minute DVD of the expedition, including underwater b-roll and interviews with expedition members is available. The video might also be available in other formats.