‘Coastal tree barriers cannot halt tsunami’

January 6th, 2009 - 12:45 pm ICT by IANS  

Sydney, Jan 6 (IANS) A team of marine scientists has dismissed claims that coastal tree barriers can halt the might of a tsunami as “false and dangerous”. Shortly after the fourth anniversary of the devastating Indian Ocean tsunami, which claimed nearly a quarter of a million lives, researchers issued a strong warning against coastal communities and governments putting their trust in mangrove and tree barriers erected as a means of protection.

“Following the 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,” said 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.

“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 concludes there is, as yet, no evidence that coastal tree belts can provide meaningful protection against a tsunami or, for that matter storm surges produced by cyclones, such as the surge that followed Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar last year which killed over 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 warn - and doing so could lead to further tragedies, said an ARC release.

The findings have major implications for civil defence and emergency planning, the cost of restoring affected regions and in minimising the death and destruction suffered by some of the poorest communities in the world, the team says.

Their study is scheduled for publication by the United Nations Environment Programme.

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