For decades, conservationists have argued that mangrove swamps in the country should be left unmolested by development. Often to no avail. Today they found a powerful ally: Malaysia Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.
Datuk Seri says: "Mangroves should not be touched, they act as a barrier for big waves ... they break the waves,"
Datuk Seri says: " "If they have been damaged, then there is a need to replant,"
Penang Inshore Fishermen’s Welfare Association (Pifwa) chairman Saidin Hussein says: "If there had been more mangrove swamps in Pulau Betong, fewer people would have died."
Simon Cripps, head of the World Wide Fund for Nature’s marine programme, says: "mangroves and coral reefs acted as shock absorbers"
Enviroman says: "amen."
Mangroves, with their complicated root systems, help to bind the shore together, effectively providing a shield against destructive waves. A 1997 study in Vietnam showed that a strip of six-year-old mangrove trees, 1.5 kilometres wide, can reduce a one-metre high wave at the open sea to 0.05 metre at the coast. The reason for the reduction is the drag force on the trees.
Simeuleu Island, a mere 40km from the epicentre was saved by the wide belt of mangroves. There were only 4 fatalities.
Five villages 100km to the south-east of Bandar Aceh in Julok were saved by the extensive mangroves in that area.
Mangroves helped save an Indonesian island of Palau Seumpelu, located near the earthquake epicentre. The island, with a population of around 60,000, lost only a hundred villagers whereas similarly populated places on the mainland of Sumatra had casualties by the tens of thousands.
If the mangroves in Bandar Aceh had not been cleared for development, the town would have been spared most of the terrible destruction caused by the tsunami.
Enviroman hopes that reconstruction of the town will not take place on the old site, but rebuilding should be further inland and the mangroves replanted.