The earthquake of December 26 2004 that struck 30km beneath the Indian Ocean along the Andaman-Sumatera faultline, off the northwestern coast of Indonesia, triggered a tsunami that caused massive devastation on land and unprecedented loss of lives. Coral reefs located in northern Sumatra lie at the gateway to the Indonesian archipelago and consist of unique biological communities with species from the Pacific and Indian oceans.
The Achenese people in coastal regions are dependant on marine resources for food and income. Past chronic human misuse of marine resources in northern Aceh has been highlighted by the attention brought to the region since the tsunami impact. Yet there are some great examples of community based conservation actions that are protecting reefs from destructive practices. The challenge for WCS and its partners is to help communities with these efforts to improve marine resource management.
The primary conservation goal of this project is to improve the effectiveness of management in Achenese coral reefs through management aimed at improving the condition of coral reef resources. As a first step we identified a significant gap in information on coral reefs in the region. To fill this gap the WCS team surveyed the health and abundance and distribution of corals and fishes 29-46 sites throughout the island group in April 2005 and 2006. The survey showed that direct effects of the tsunami on reef fish populations were minor when compared with the obvious impacts of overfishing prior to the tsunami. In areas where destructive fishing had been limited by local coastal communities the reefs were healthy and abundant with reef fish. In stark contrast reefs that showed signs of dynamite blasting were in very poor condition and unlikely to sustain fisheries.
In February 2006 we recorded substantial increases in the abundance of coral reef fish, notably in marine protected areas and not in areas open to previous poor fishing practices. Although the tsunami caused some localised damage to coral reef habitat and by implication to coral reef fish, we conclude that the overriding influence on reef fish is management. The results highlight the important role that protected areas may play in providing refugia for fish and enhancing the resilience of coral reef ecosystems following severe disturbance.
Important Next Steps
- Continue to assess coral reefs and identify critical habitats (eg. spawning areas);
- Assess socio-economic needs and perceptions to marine resource use and conservation;
- Develop community co-management and marine protected area networks;
- Build capacity of government and local NGO`s in marine resource management;
- Conduct and support marine awareness and education programs in schools;
- Assist communities in developing alternative livelihood projects.
27 sites of survey in February 2006