Thursday, 8 October 2009

Impacts of Pacific Tsunami on marine environment and MPAs

Damage caused by the Tsunami that struck Samoa, American Samoa and Tonga on the 29th September is still being assessed. Preliminary casualty figures are at least 135 people on the main island, Upolu, in Samoa, 32 in American Samoa and nine in Tonga.

The immediate human tragedy is exacerbated by the probably long term repercussions; in Samoa the worst affected areas are on the South coast with at least 4 resorts wiped out and severe damage to fishing grounds expected.  First reports, from American Samoa,  suggest severe structural damage to coral reefs around the tsunami impacted areas with large amounts of debris with moderate to minimal damage in other areas.

With specific regard to MPAs, the jewel in the crown of Samoa’s MPAs, Aleipata, is in the worst affected area but the south coast had over 20 other fisheries MPAs as well as the large Safata MPA for which we have no reports yet. The National Park of American Samoa has been hard hit and information is not yet available regarding the status of other MPAs such as Fagatele located on the South coast. 

The images below show Lalomanu Seaside Village in Aleipata MPA, Samoa, before and after the tsunami, an area that was one of the core "no-take" zones that was heavily used for tourism. The beach is completely gone, and extensive reef damage is expected due to sediments and sand being washed away. 

Lalomanu Seaside Village in Aleipata MPA, before (top/left) and after (bottom/right) the tsunami. Photos: Sue Taei

There is no more concrete info on the coral reef or MPA damage for Samoa or Tonga but in American Samoa we have the following:

" An advisory group on American Samoa’s coral reefs says anecdotal reports on the impact of last week’s tusnami show extensive structural damage in some areas.

The Coral Reef Initiative’s co-ordinator, Jeremy Goldberg, says teams of divers have been inspecting the reefs and he expects to be able to issue a report on their condition within the next couple of days.

He says the territory’s renowned for having some of the Pacific’s most pristine and resilient coral, with five times as many species as Hawaii.

Mr Goldberg says clearing the reefs of debris quickly is crucial to prevent it from causing more damage as it’s moved by wave action.

    “Some of the anecdotal evidence coming in is that there has been a tremendous amount of structural damage done to a few of the coral reefs around some of the heavily impacted areas. Large amounts of debris have been seen on some of the reefs. But it’s looking like the damage is moderate in most places and even minimal in some habitats so that’s a good sign.”

Jeremy Goldberg of American Samoa’s Coral Reef Initiative.

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For more information on regional impacts of the Tsunami, contact IUCN WCPA-Marine's Melanesia Regional Coordinator, Hugh Govan