Thread: Corals die due to earthquake

Started: 2007-04-09 03:02:05
Last activity: 2007-04-09 03:02:05
Topics: IRIS EPO
hall@scieds.com
2007-04-09 03:02:05

RANONGGA, Solomon Islands (AFP) - The seismic jolt that unleashed the deadly
Solomons tsunami this week lifted an entire island metres out of the sea,
destroying some of the world's most pristine coral reefs.

In an instant, the grinding of the Earth's tectonic plates in the
8.0magnitude earthquake Monday forced the island of Ranongga up three
metres
(10 foot).

Submerged reefs that once attracted scuba divers from around the globe lie
exposed and dying after the quake raised the mountainous landmass, which is
32-kilometres (20-miles) long and 8-kilometres (5-miles) wide.

Corals that used to form an underwater wonderland of iridescent blues,
greens and reds now bleach under the sun, transforming into a barren
moonscape surrounding the island.

The stench of rotting fish and other marine life stranded on the reefs when
the seas receded is overwhelming and the once vibrant coral is dry and
crunches underfoot.

Dazed villagers stand on the shoreline, still coming to terms with the
cataclysmic shift that changed the geography of their island forever,
pushing the shoreline out to sea by up to 70 metres.

Aid agencies have yet to reach Ranongga after the quake and tsunami that
killed at least 34 people in the Pacific archipelago but an AFP reporter and
photographer on a chartered boat witnessed the destruction first hand.

At Pienuna, on Ranongga's east coast, locals said much of their harbour had
disappeared, leaving only a narrow inlet lined by jagged exposed coral reefs
either side.

Villager Harison Gago said there were huge earthquake fissures which had
almost split the island in half, gesturing with his hands that some of the
cracks were 50 centimetres (20 inches) wide.

Further north at Niu Barae, fisherman Hendrik Kegala had just finished
exploring the new underwater landscape of the island with a snorkel when
contacted by the AFP team.

He said a huge submerged chasm had opened up, running at least 500 metres
(550 yards) parallel to the coast.

On the beach at Niu Barae, the earthquake has revealed a sunken vessel that
locals believe is a Japanese patrol boat, a remnant of the fierce fighting
between Allied forces and the Japanese in WWII.

Kegala said that from the perspective of those on the island, the sea
appeared to recede and villagers still feared it would come back again as a
tsunami, making them reluctant to return from higher ground where they fled.

"Plenty big noise," he told AFP, describing the disaster in the local pidgin
dialect.

"Water go back and not come back again," he added, saying the whooshing
sound of the receding water and the shaking from the quake occurred
simultaneously.

Danny Kennedy, a dive operator in the provincial capital Gizo, said the
earthquake had damaged coral reefs throughout the Solomon Islands' western
province.

He said dive sites once ranked among the best in the world were dying
because the tremors had upset the fragile natural ecosystem.

"Some of the most beautiful corals are the most delicate and those are the
ones that have been affected," he told AFP.

"The more robust corals are still there but it's the ones that people want
to photograph, the sea fans and the colourful corals, that are dying."

Kennedy said the damage to the coral reefs could dry up the region's major
source of overseas money.

"Diving is huge here, it employs so many local people," he said. "The fear
is that people are going to come here and see the reefs are damaged then
tell people not to come back for a few years until they recover."

Jackie Thomas, acting manager for Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) in the
Solomons, said the loss of the reefs was a huge blow for the fishing
communities that are dotted along Ranongga's coast.

"The fish from the reefs are the major source of protein for the villagers,"
she told AFP from Gizo.

"They use shells for tools and rely on the sea for many of their basic
needs.

"It just shows the incredible force of the earthquake, to move a whole
island."

She said the reefs around Ranongga were a protected marine environment and
locals had worked hard with WWF in recent years to ensure that they were
managed sustainably.

"Now it's another marine environment that has been destroyed," she said.

"Who knows if the coral reefs will recover and the fish will come back?
Villagers will have to travel further to find the same sort of food and
nutrition they've relied on -- the whole food chain has been disrupted."

--
Terry Wallace

5040 Hermosura
Los Alamos, NM 87544

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13:39:32 v.22510d55