Most of Sri Lanka’s golden beaches battered by the Asian tsunami are expected to take up to six months to return to normal but their fragile coral reefs will take longer, a global environment group said on Tuesday.
A survey of Sri Lanka’s reefs had shown the impact of the Dec. 26 tsunami was highly varied but several beaches lost width and had seen significant washing away of sand, the World Conservation Union (IUCN) said.
“In the next three to six month the beaches below the sand dunes will recover but some seashore vegetation will take at least two years,” said Channa Bambaradeniya, program coordinator at the group’s Colombo office.
Sand dunes in some places on southern beaches were an effective barrier to the tsunami and had absorbed the force of the waves, he said.
“The dunes eroded but they saved the inland agriculture system,” Bambaradeniya said.
Damage to property and loss of life were substantial where there were no dunes, he said.
The study said a reef off the eastern city of Trincomalee had been completely destroyed by the tsunami that toppled massive coral colonies. But there were reefs elsewhere that had not been affected at all.
Beach erosion was severe in most places and stretches where illegal coral mining was rampant were damaged badly, the group said.
In 1998, when the El Nino weather phenomenon warmed the sea, several reefs were badly affected by coral bleaching and mortality, leaving many areas with low coral cover and large amounts of loose rubble.
The environment group said much of that rubble had shifted, causing most of the damage to the reefs. Boats and other debris from the shore that was sucked out to sea by the retreating waves also caused damage.
Bambaradeniya said marine sludge dumped inland by the tsunami had started affecting vegetation and trees were beginning to die because of the salt.
“Local home gardens with trees are being affected,” he said, adding that the spread of the aggressive mesquite plant, which prefers salinity, and opuntia cacti was threatening the ecosystem inland.
“The cactus was found on the shores but it has now been washed inland,” said Bambaradeniya.