Sunday, January 02, 2005

Cheap shrimp escalates tsunami devastation

It's not just shrimp farming, but mangrove and coal reef loss coupled with dense coastal settlements enssures widespread death when a natural force strikes.

Sadly, much the same was said after the Orissa cyclone of 29 October 1999, escalating mangrove replanting projects. EJF also has an ongoing campaign, "Why prawns will make you sick."

Photos from Digital Globe via Screenshots, showing the absence of
coastal vegetation and the extent of tsunamic inundation.

"Did humans make tsunami effects worse?
Paris, 28 Dec 2004 - Human activities, notably the building of coastal resorts and the destruction of natural protection , contributed to the enormous loss of life from killer tsunamis that hit the shores of the Indian Ocean after an earthquake, an environmental expert said last Monday. Jeff McNeely, chief scientist of the Swiss-based World Conservation Union (IUCN), who lived for several years in Indonesia and Thailand, two of the countries hit by Sunday's disaster, said it was "nothing new for nature" in a geologically active region.

"What made this a disaster is that people have started to occupy part of the landscape that they shouldn’t have occupied," he said in a telephone interview.

"Fifty years ago the coastline was not densely occupied as now by tourist hotels," he said. The hotels did not replace traditional villages because the villagers built inland, McNeely said. "What has also happened over the last several decades is that many mangroves have been cleared to grow shrimp ponds so that we, here in Europe, can have cheap shrimp," McNeely said.

"The mangroves were all along the coasts where there are shallow waters. They offered protection against things like tsunamis. Over the last 20-30 years, they were cleared by people who didn't have the long-term knowledge of why these mangroves should have been saved, by outsiders who get concessions from the governments and set up shrimp or prawn farms." The shrimps and prawns are sold to Europeans and other foreigners "at a price that does not include the environmental cost which is being paid today," McNeely said.

The same thing has been happening with the coral reefs that also provided protection to the coast, he explained. "When a tsunami comes in, it first hits the coral reef which slows it down, then it hits the mangroves which further slows it down. It may get through that but by then a lot of the energy has already been dissipated," McNeely said. Conservationists in India, Sri Lanka and Thailand had warned that mangroves had tremendous value for conservation and to protect the coastline, McNeely said.

On the other hand, Sunday's quake would not have been a disaster for local wildlife still left in the affected areas, he added. "Those living along the coast are seldom particularly rare, that's not a rare habitat, the mangroves are not particularly rich in species, the species that live there are used to typhoons, to storms and all that," he said. "Animals are smart enough to move."

Tens of thousands of people were killed in India, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, the Maldives, Burma (Myanmar) and Thailand as a result of the massive quake off the Indonesian island of Sumatra. Many victims were Europeans and other holidaymakers swept away when the waves hit beach resorts. But the bulk of the dead where residents of local towns inundated by waves more than 10 meters high and fishermen living in flimsy housings along the shores of the Indian Ocean. -AFP

See also Restoring manrgoves.

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