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Tsunami-damaged coral reefs should be left to recover naturally, say scientists

Coral reefs damaged in the Asian tsunami tragedy should be allowed to recover naturally before countries launch into expensive restoration plans, according to some of the world's leading scientists.

The scientists, led by a researcher from the University of Newcastle upon Tyne, and who set out their views in an advisory brief for the World Bank, point to historical records of major coral reef devastation by cyclones and typhoons, which show that reefs recovered without human intervention.

Although the devastation caused by the tsunami was on a much larger scale, the scientists say there is no evidence to suggest that the vast majority of reefs will not recover naturally this time.

They add that Governments should be very careful not to commit funds to costly repair programmes that may have little long-term effect.

About 20 per cent of the coral reefs in places such as Thailand and Sri Lanka were badly affected by the tsunami that happened in December last year. The damage was mainly caused by the backwash waves returning to the sea that sucked back debris from the shore such as trees, cars, sediment and parts of buildings, which broke and overturned corals.

The group recommend that, in most cases, simply removing the debris from the reefs would be sufficient to allow them to repair themselves. Only in areas where corals were more or less wiped out and no healthy reefs remained nearby to provide a source of new coral larvae, would artificial methods such as coral transplantation be clearly beneficial.

Dr Alasdair Edwards, a researcher and senior lecturer with the University of Newcastle upon Tyne, UK, chairs the World Bank's Coral Restoration and Remediation Working Group. He said: "Obviously, immediately after the tsunami, the main priorities have been to address the human toll, the health and sustenance of survivors and the rebuilding of livelihoods in all of the affected nations.

"However, long-term
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Contact: Dr Alasdair Edwards
press.office@ncl.ac.uk
44-191-222-6663
University of Newcastle upon Tyne
12-May-2005


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