Mangroves ‘won’t stop tsunami’

Claims that coastal tree barriers can halt the might of a tsunami are false and dangerous, says a team of international marine scientists.

There are many reasons for preserving the world’s dwindling stocks of mangroves but protecting people from tsunamis is not one of them, they added.

Four year on from the devastating 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami, which killed more than 250,000 people, the team of scientists issued a strong warning against coastal communities and governments putting their trust in mangrove and tree barriers.

“Following the Boxing Day tsunami, scientific studies were released which claimed that the damage to coastal communities had been less in places where there was a barrier of trees or coastal vegetation,” explained Dr Andrew Baird of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies and James Cook University.

“As a result, there has been a lot of tree planting in coastal areas affected by the tsunami in the hope it will protect coastal communities in future from such events,” he observed.

“However these studies looked only at the presence or absence of vegetation and the extent of damage – and did not take account of other important variables, like the distance of a village from the shore, the height of the village above sea level or the shape of the seabed in concentrating the tsunami’s power.”

The study by Dr Baird’s team concluded that there was, as yet, no evidence that coastal tree belts could provide meaningful protection against a tsunami or even storm surges produced by cyclones, such as the surge that followed Cyclone Nargis in Burma earlier this year, which killed more than 150,000 people.

As a result it would be extremely dangerous to rely on tree planting alone to shield coastal communities in the event of future tsunami or storm surges, they warned.

The findings will be published shortly in a report by the United Nations Environment Programme.

Source: Australian Research Council press release

Date: 26/12/2008


5 Responses

  1. What’s the motivation for publishing anti-tree research? Too often scientists don’t pay enough attention to being objective and instead kept swept up in being unknowing advocates for that which they don’t really believe in!

    My impression from this scientists is that he is unintentionally implying some kind of benefit in the limiting of reforestation and protection of Mangrove forests?

    And who benefits from such analysis?

    Well, as near as I can tell this guy’s expertise is in coral reef restoration, not forest restoration and perhaps he’s got a chip on his shoulder about there being more funding for forest planting than funding for reef planting?

    And with all the anti-tree fervor in the world I’d prefer it if such “science” was not enabled by those who don’t have the trees best interest at heart!

    Blessings, Deane

    • Deane — I don’t think the researcher is saying anything that undermines the importance of tree conservation or afforestation.

      My understanding of the research is that they are voicing concerns that the argument that mangrove plantations mitigate the impact of storm surges or tsunami is unproven. At the moment, they say, it is rather anecdotal, which is fair enough.

      I have written many stories on the role mangroves played in saving lives – anything that adds to that deabte and calls for further funding and research into this area is good as far as I am concerned.


      Take Cover

  2. Rather muddled: There is no basis to favour bias as an explanation of scientific results without examining the analysis. Plus your argument has a rather amusing superstructure: You start out asserting the need for objectivity in assessing whether trees can stop a tsunami, then conclude by saying, no, we must proceed with a particular point of view. Priceless. I agree that forest conservation is of paramount importance, but i just dont think that that noble fight is related to whether trees can stop tsunamis. From a news release, i certainly cant divine whether somone’s science isnt in fact spot on. And neither can you. Your laudable passion for conservation is not an excuse for incivility.

    • Hi Alex – not sure whether you are referring to my blog or the researchers’ study. Either way, can I refer you to my response I gave to Deane below. For years, mangroves have suffered at the hands of developments in coastal areas. Any research that calls for more funding to understand the role of mangroves – whether it supports a particular theory or not – is a step forward. It is an area that has been neglected for too long, and a greater understanding is going to benefit all – socially, environmentally and economically.

      Best wishes

      Take Cover team

      • Sorry takecover08,

        i was responding to Deane of forestpolicy”research” and his Quixotic suggestion that mitigation by mangroves of the tsunami is invalidated by rhetorical jibes like “who benefits from such analysis?”. Unfortunately, i totally buggered the force of my argument by not specifying the object of my criticism: The well-meaning spew from one Deane of Im continually stunned in my dealings with justifiably passionate souls by the prevalence of the belief that disagreement per se is prima facie evidence of bias. Still, I categorically reject the alluring hypothesis that Deane and is ilk are just being jerks. So check it out: this leaves a far more interesting and parsimonious hypothesis, that we have a hardwire issue at play here: ALL of us given circumstances of sufficient emotional investment in our everyday life can (nay, often do) respond just as our dear colleague Deane has, with the certainty that those who disagree must in principle be wrong. This should give us all pause as we scan the news channels tonight. The original empirical issue, of whether mangroves mitigated impacts of the 2004 tsunami, remains unaddressed.

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