- New surveys of the Seychelles' coral reefs reveal substantial damage, approaching 100 percent to most northern and eastern islands' coral reefs. Southern and western parts of the islands suffered less damage from the 26 December tsunami, generally below ten percent, owing to their sheltered location.
This was revealed today in a report by the environmentalist union IUCN, which had ordered several surveys of the state of Seychelles' rich coral reefs after the tsunami that in particular struck Asia in December. The many reefs off Seychelles were already in a poor state before the tsunami.
According to IUCN's reef expert Carl Gustaf Lundin, "many of the damaged coral reefs were still in a recovery stage after the massive coral bleaching from El Niño in 1998 and suffering from the detrimental impacts of climate change. The tsunami added to that stress, underlining the need for urgent action to conserve the Seychelles' coral reefs."
As the tsunami waves hit the coastline of the Indian Ocean archipelago on 26 December, they had crossed 5000 kilometres in less than seven hours from the Indonesian epicentre, offshore Sumatra. The impact caused tidal waves, seawater surges and severe flooding which led to widespread environmental and infrastructure damage throughout the island nation.
In response to a request from the UN's Environment Programme (UNEP), the IUCN Global Marine Programme and Coral Reef Degradation in the Indian Ocean programme (CORDIO) had conducted a detailed assessment of the tsunami impacts on the marine environment of the Seychelles.
The surveys documented over 50 percent of substrate damage and over 25 percent of direct damage to corals in northern and eastern-facing carbonate framework sites, less than 10 percent damage in shallow carbonate substrate sites in central, western and southern locations, and less than 1 percent damage to all granitic substrate sites.
IUCN's report to UNEP's fact-finding mission highlights the pressing need to improve monitoring and management, particularly bearing in mind the importance of coral reefs to the economy, society and infrastructure of the Seychelles.
- It is therefore vital that we strengthen existing efforts to protect the remaining refugia and coral reef areas through enhanced monitoring and park management capacity, says Ronny Jurneau, Minister for Environment and Natural Resources of the Seychelles.
Today, UNEP released the official Tsunami Environmental Damage Assessment in Nairobi, Kenya. In addition to the Seychelles report, the IUCN Global Marine Programme and CORDIO have further contributed reports from Thailand, Sri Lanka, India and Yemen.
UNEP in an earlier assessment had concluded that tsunami damages had been very limited in Seychelles. The UN agency in a preliminary report said that "little direct damage was caused by the tsunami on coral reef habitats and that the majority of assessed reefs experienced less than 5 percent damage."
The Seychelles has a coral reef area of 1,690 square kilometres with 310 coral species and eight sea grass species. The islands form a critical stepping-stone in the bio-geographic distribution of shallow marine species across the Indian Ocean, and are therefore considered an important marine habitat by environmentalists.
UNEP's preliminary assessment of environmental impacts covering damage to shorelines, vegetation, "environmental infrastructure" such as pavement walkways and municipal parks, amounted to a total restoration estimate of rupees 7.25 million (US$ 1.3 million). However, this figure is now considered far too low.
In addition, the tsunami - which flooded the low lying areas of the islands Mahé, Praslin and La Digue - made great damage to roads, bridges, other infrastructure, houses and other private property. The flooding lasted for about six hours. Two people lost their lives.
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