The Asian Tsunami’s Havoc and Death Toll: Nature’s Wrath or Human Shortsightedness? Nature's wrath or human shortsightedness?

Z. Dubinsky, O. Chomsky, S. Brenner

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


The unprecedented devastation caused by the December 2004 tsunami (Reuters, 2005) was followed by environmentalists' claims that the human toll and overall impact were aggravated by disregard for conservation of coral reefs and mangrove forests (Channel News Asia, 2005; Cripps, 2005; Mangrove Action Project, 2005). Corals surround tropical shorelines (Spalding et al., 2001) and beyond them, on land, grow, in most cases, dense belts of mangroves (Chapman, 1977). These twin barriers are thought to protect shorelines from waves and may be capable of mitigating tsunami impact (Fig. 1). According to reports in the mass media, reefs and mangroves sheltered people from the tsunami's impact, whereas in the hardest hit areas in terms of human casualties, coral reefs and mangroves had been removed in order to make room for shrimp and fish mariculture (Kaban, 2005). Here we present an attempt to evaluate the potential of the combination of coral reefs and mangroves to attenuate tsunamis, and validate the claims regarding the protective function of reefs and mangroves. Special attention will be given to the extent of the recent destruction of reef and coral ecosystems in the region afflicted by the tsunami, and the importance of their conservation and of remediation and rehabilitation efforts (Kaban, 2005). Tsunamis have ravaged coastal communities since the earliest extant myths and written records (Table 1). The most prominent among these was the one generated by the volcanic eruption of Thera (Santorini), thought to have wiped out the Minoan civilization (Galanopoulos, 1960; Pararas-Carayannis, 1973), and sending survivors as far east as Canaan, where they settled as the biblical “Sea people” or Philistines, who competed with the Hebrews for what was to become the “Holy Land”. There are historical records of tsunamis with death tolls ranging from no victims to estimates of over 300,000 in the last one (Table 1). The Sumatra tsunami of December 2004 was the first to be witnessed via television in virtually every home, bringing the destructive potential of oceanic waves to unprecedented public awareness. In the wake of this tsunami, there have been several reports in the mass media regarding the reduction in the human death toll and overall destruction in areas that
Original languageAmerican English
Title of host publicationTsunami Threat - Research and Technology
EditorsNils-Axel Morner
Place of PublicationLondon
ISBN (Electronic)978-953-51-4521-9
ISBN (Print)978-953-307-552-5
StatePublished - 2011


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