Ecological damage from tsunami may be long-lasting

The tsunami that ravaged coastlines of Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Thailand, and India last week, causing some 150,000 human deaths and countless dollars in property damage, also wreaked havoc on the region’s already-fragile environment. Researchers are just beginning to survey the toll on coastal forests, coral reefs, and wetlands, and experts say the news is not good. In addition to misplaced nesting sites, uprooted mangroves, and debris-laden reefs, the huge waves of saltwater have contaminated all of the groundwater supplies on some Indian Ocean islands, and it could be months or even years before those areas recover their freshwater reserves. Later this month, several international meetings will focus on the environmental damage from the tsunamis and what can be done about it. The light at the end of the (very long) tunnel? Says Lynne Hale of The Nature Conservancy, “We have an unprecedented opportunity to do reconstruction in a way which doesn’t repeat our mistakes.”