From: Nirmala George, Associated Press
Published January 20, 2005 12:00 AM

Silt Deposits Threaten Coral Life in Tsunami-Hit Southern Indian Islands

PORT BLAIR, India — The tsunami split coral reefs in India's remote Andaman and Nicobar islands chain, burying them under sand deposits and threatening the entire marine habitat in the area, researchers said.

The researchers, who surveyed coral formations in South Andaman island for five days, said coral reefs that survived the Dec. 26 disaster are in danger of being smothered by sand deposits.

The Andaman coral reefs are a treasure trove of biodiversity, second only to Australia's Great Barrier Reef and comparable to the coral reefs near the Philippines and Indonesia. Marine researchers have identified nearly 200 coral species in the reefs around Andaman and Nicobar.

The coral reefs suffered extensive damage, with clusters of coral branches snapping off, said researcher Kevin Shimrone Moses.

"The sand and debris deposited over the corals will eventually choke off marine species, endangering the intricate ecological balance between the coral formations and other sea species," he said Wednesday after a survey of the North Bay and Diglipur areas.


"Many large boulder corals have shifted or are leaning toward the sea and many of the stag horn coral have broken off with the force of the tsunami."

The survey is part of a broader research program being conducted by the privately run Society for Andaman and Nicobar Ecology, or SANE. The group is based in Port Blair, the islands' capital.

The state-run Zoological Survey of India also plans to survey the Andaman coral reefs.

The tsunami pounded the coral reefs as a wall of water smashed into the shore and then delivered a second punch as the waves rolled back into the sea -- breaking off coral branches and depositing tons of debris and sludge on the reefs, said D.R.K. Sastry, regional director of the state-run research body.

Moses said the sand prevents light from reaching the micro-organisms living on the coral, "and there is a certain danger that the coral will become stressed."

The Andaman coral formations are swarming with numerous species of fish, algae, anemones and mollusks. The seas around are home to rare sea creatures like the dugong, a sea mammal similar to the manatee, while the Andaman coast is the habitat of several endangered species such as the hawksbill, Olive Ridley and great leatherback turtles.

"Any change in this intricately balanced habitat would affect all marine life forms of the area," Moses said.

Experts say the Andaman coral reefs have shown signs of stress over the past decade. Global warming, pollution, and possibly the warming of the oceans by the El Nino weather phenomenon, have resulted in widespread bleaching of coral reefs. Bleaching occurs when algae that host on the coral die, and the corals lose their color.

Environmental activists said coral reefs and mangroves lining the coast acted as a natural buffer against tidal waves, preventing soil erosion.

Source: Associated Press

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