We must preserve the mangroves to shelter us

Posted on March 1, 2011. Filed under: Forestry/Wetlands |

-The Sun-

FOLLOWING the December 2004 Asian tsunami that devastated much of the coastal areas of the littoral states of the Indian Ocean and killed about a quarter million people, all sorts of pious intentions were announced and numerous fear-allaying efforts were planned to mitigate destruction by future tsunamis. Of course at the top of the list of must-do was an effective early warning system. After six years, something is in place now and hopefully future killer tsunamis would not be able to surprise people living in the coastal areas of countries in the region.

About 150,000 people died in Indonesia alone, mostly in Aceh, where Banda Aceh and towns and villages just about two kilometres inland were devastated because there was nothing between them and the beaches. The giant waves moved in unimpeded and caused the destruction whose images are still clear in most people’s mind. Even then observers saw the correlation between the buffer of coastal forests, especially of mangroves, and the magnitude of the destruction. A year later, several scientific studies concluded that areas buffered by coastal forests suffered less damage than areas that had been denuded of trees.

In response to the reports many countries affected by the tsunami declared that forthwith there would be a one or two kilometre-wide belt of trees, especially mangroves, lining the beaches. But with memory of the killer waves fading from the minds of officials, NGOs and even ordinary people, fewer coordinated efforts are being made to preserve the mangrove forests and the reforestation of areas where the trees had been felled for charcoal making or for use as building materials.

Thus efforts by the community in Tanjung Bungah in Penang to create a small forest of mangrove trees near the Gurney Drive area are most commendable. Members of the community had planted several thousand mangrove saplings in the area since April last year. The forest, small though it is, may help to mitigate the force of a future tsunami.

There are a few other coastal communities in the country which have taken similar initiatives but what they have succeeded in doing falls far short of what was intended shortly after the 2004 tsunami. While efforts are ongoing at planting new forests and reforesting areas where trees had been felled the authorities must ensure that existing forests and the new ones are protected. Mangrove forests are not just mere confusing entanglement of trees and roots but are environmental treasures whose ecosystem shelters a variety of wild plants, fish, crabs, crustaceans and birds. Since the forests are important to us, let us together help enlarge and maintain them.

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