Quake Caused ‘Mass Death’ of Coral Reefs

JAKARTA ~ A powerful earthquake in Indonesia caused one of the greatest mass deaths of corals after lifting up an entire island and exposing most of its reefs, an environmental group said.

Most the coral reefs ringing the island of Simeulue, near Sumatra, were exposed after the 2005 quake raised them, the Wildlife Conservation Society said after researching the issue last month.

“This is a story of mass mortality on a scale rarely observed,” Stuart Campbell, a marine expert from the organization, said in a statement.

“In contrast to other threats like coral bleaching, none of the corals uplifted by the earthquake have survived,” he said.

But at many sites the worst-affected species were beginning to recolonize areas of shallow reef, he said.

“The reefs appear to be returning to what they looked like before the earthquake, although the process may take many years,” he said.

The 8.7-magnitude quake struck in March 2005, killing hundreds of people in nearby Nias island. It lifted Simeulue up about 1.2 meters.

The corals exposed around the island, which has a perimeter of about 300 kilometers, are well preserved, said Australian coral reef expert Andrew Baird.

“This is a unique opportunity to document a process that occurs maybe once a century and promises to provide new insights into coral recovery processes that until now we could only explore on fossil reefs,” he said.

Indonesia’s vast coral reefs are popular with tourists on diving holidays, but are under threat from human activities such as coral mining and illegal fishing.

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