Sunday, January 23, 2005

More On Mangroves

A pathologically dishonest and ignorant troll (who shall remain nameless) took umbrage at my recent post on the potentially lifesaving effect of mangroves in areas struck by the Indian Ocean tsunami. Actually, my post mainly had to do with the impact of different types of development in tourist regions, but new evidence indicates that the protective effects of mangroves are actually far more profound than initial reports suggested:

For generations, the Irula tribe in southern India made a living out of skinning snakes. Then a 1972 wildlife law banned such sales and the tribals, who lived in seaside forests, turned to fishing and worked on a government program to restore coastal mangrove swamps damaged by human development.

When the tsunami struck on December 26, the mangroves in the Pichavaram wetland acted as a buffer, saving the Irulas and about a dozen fishing hamlets from the killer waves.

"We were saved by the trees we planted in the past," said V. Kumar, an Irula who spends two hours every morning planting mangrove saplings. "Those who destroyed the forest and built houses on open beaches had to face the brunt," he said, pointing to a fishing hamlet on a sand bar between the mangroves and the sea that was completely washed away.

There was no loss of human life or property in these villages, located 100m to 700m from the sea. Elsewhere in Tamil Nadu state, the worst-hit in India, the sea entered as deep as 1.5km, washing away thousands of people and their homes.

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