Can the mangroves planted on Tuvalu, as encouraged by the Government, be the best response to a disaster such as a tsunami or a hurricane?
After the Tsunami warning last week, Lan and I have been thinking a lot about how we can be more protected on this small island state. If a Tsunami had struck Tuvalu as it struck Japan, the consequences would have been extremely serious.
Despite the two evacuation centres: the hospital and the government house, it is impossible to hide in Tuvalu (LINK); and especially if the waves are higher than the building that is supposed to protect you. As Tuvalu is no higher than 4,5 meters at the highest, and most of the land is actually at less than 2 meters above sea level, the three-story high Government building is not much of a insurance against the powerful sea.
The violence of the images of the tsunami hitting Japan one week ago, reminded us all of the horrifying waves that struck South East Asia Christmas 2004. Once again we are reminded of the fact that we human are quite powerless and totally weak facing the strength of the ocean.
However, and as the Tsunami of 2004 made us understand, some natural protection can be used on the shores to reduce the strength and thereby the impact of the waves in washing away the beaches and the buildings, sometimes even far inland.
On Tuvalu, one Japanese NGO – Tuvalu Overview (www.tuvalu-overview.tv) – and more recently the Government through its adaptation to climate change plan (LINK) are planting and encouraging Tuvaluans to plant more mangroves and trees that can protect (LINK) the shores and prevent the sand from getting washed away.
Planting mangrove is not a difficult task (we have done it twice and we planted around 800 trees) but requires few essential elements without those it would be simply impossible to grow this tree. Firstly, the soil has to be adequate; preferably sandy but also a bit muddy in order to give nutrients to the plant growing. Secondly, it is imperative to get seedlings, on Funafuti, they are taken from a pond close to the runway. And thirdly, even if it grows by itself it has to be planted and someone has to take the seaweed away from the small trunks.
These three elements are the main ingredients of a good mangrove planting and in consequence of the growing resilience of the shore of the islands or the coastal areas.
Moreover, mangroves have several good side effects. When the mangrove grows, the roots offer a particularly safe shelter for the young fishes, the small fishes, the crabs and other shrimps. The mangrove consequently also offers an easy access to proteins and seafood. The wood of the dead trunks can also be use as combustible; and it captures and sequesters a lot of carbon.
What are we waiting for planting more mangroves?
Tsunamis are usually caused by earthquakes, but can also be caused by submarine landslides, or volcanic eruptions and very rarely by a large meteorite impact in the ocean. Earthquakes are not triggered by climate change.