The earthquake and tsunami of 2004 resulted in the devastation of marine and coastal ecosystems across the Indian Ocean. However, without adequate baseline information it has been difficult to properly gauge its full impact. The reefs of the Nicobar Islands in the Bay of Bengal lie on a path that ranges from 190 to 500 km from Banda Aceh, the epicentre of the 2004 tsunami. In 2008, we recorded benthic damage as a result of the tsunami to reefs off 14 Nicobar Islands across a gradient of distance from the epicentre. A clear pattern was observed in the demographic structure of the most abundant coral genera, Acropora and Porites across the distance gradient. Significantly, for the largest coral individuals of both genera (> 50 cm diameter), there were distinct threshold effects – their abundance declining dramatically in reefs closer than 350 km from the epicentre. Corals between 20 and 50 cm diameter also increased with distance from the epicentre, but in a more linear fashion. Smaller size classes either showed no apparent trend (Acropora) or decreased linearly (Porites) with distance. These gen- era represent very different life-history strategies: Acropora is fast-growing and highly susceptible to a range of disturbances, while Porites typically grows slowly but is resistant to disturbance. The fact that both genera showed similar thresholds indicates that, close to the epicentre, the impact of the earthquake and tsunami was large enough to override any species- specific resistance. Also, algal cover was also much higher than at locations further north, linked to higher coral mortality at these locations. However, the fact that smaller size class coral individuals were rela- tively abundant and even increased close to the ep centre indicates possible paths of reef recovery after the catastrophe.
Distance-related thresholds and influence of the 2004 tsunami on damage and recovery patterns of coral reefs in the Nicobar Islands
Current Science 102:1199–1205