[Coral-List] REEF CHECK: New Threats to Earthquake Damaged Reefs

Reef Check Headquarters rcinfo at reefcheck.org
Tue Jan 10 16:59:10 EST 2006

For Immediate Release: January 10, 2006
Media Contact: Scott Sheckman
Tel: USA 310-230-2371
Email: ssheckman at reefcheck.org
Web: http://www.reefcheck.org

Earthquake and Tsunami Caused Less Damage than Overfishing to Sumatra's Coral Reefs: Sedimentation Remains a Problem

Los Angeles, California - Sedimentation, overfishing and destructive methods, such as cyanide and blast fishing, continue to threaten the health of coral reefs in Aceh, the epicenter of the fourth largest earthquake in history, according to a report released today by Reef Check, the global coral reef conservation organization. 

The October 2005 expedition that included scientists from four countries, discovered new earthquake damage, but this was confined to a few locations. No tsunami or earthquake damage was recorded at more than half of 200 coral reefs surveyed along the coast of Aceh.

"On most reefs we surveyed, fish were few and far between, and most were less than 25 cm (10 inches) long," said Reef Check scientist Bob Foster, "The small size and low abundance of ten primary food fish families indicate serious overfishing that can destabilize the ecosystem.  Poison and blast fishing are common in the region."

Localized earthquake damage was sometimes severe. The December 26, 2004 magnitude 9.15 earthquake tilted several of the Banyak Islands, located 190 kilometers south of the epicenter, and raised many hectares of coral reef completely out of the water where the corals died. Survey scientists discovered large patches of the semi-precious, branching blue coral (Heliopora), that were knocked down and killed.

On most reefs, the earthquake-generated tsunami, which wiped out entire cities such as Banda Aceh, caused relatively minor immediate damage, overturning and killing less than 3% of the corals surveyed.  A more serious impact of the tsunami is an increase in seawater turbidity and sedimentation that threatens the long-term health of the reefs. This was caused by the tsunami sweeping away coastal vegetation and exposing the bare ground to rainfall, erosion and increased runoff to the sea.

The Aceh Expedition was a joint project of Reef Check, the World Conservation Union and Khaled bin Sultan Living Oceans Foundation with primary funding from Living Oceans. The survey vessel started from the town of Sibolga, and recorded data at more than 200 reef sites over a 660-kilometer course to Pulau Rondo, the north-western tip of Indonesia. 

"Very little was previously known about the health of the reefs in this area," states Dr. Gregor Hodgson, Reef Check Founder and Executive Director, "This expedition points to the need for better management of coral reefs in this mega-biodiversity region. The wonderful thing about reefs is how quickly they can recover if we take care of them." 

Founded in 1997 to help reverse the global reef crisis, The Reef Check Foundation is a non-profit organization that operates the world's largest coral reef monitoring and conservation program. Represented in over 80 countries and territories, Reef Check's network of scientists and volunteer divers submit standardized data to the USA headquarters for analysis and review.  International teams work with communities, governments and businesses to scientifically monitor coral reefs, rehabilitate damaged reefs, and maintain healthy reefs globally.

Executive Summary, photos and full report available at: http://www.reefcheck.org/news/aceh.asp

For more information, please contact Scott Sheckman at Reef Check HQ Tel: USA 310-230-2371 
Email: ssheckman at reefcheck.org

Partner Information: www.iucn.org and www.livingoceansfoundation.org
Philip G. Renaud, Executive Director - Living Oceans Foundation. Email: prenaud at livingoceansfoundation.org

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