16 March 2005

Maldives coral reefs undamaged by Asian tsunami

Many television viewers have seen for themselves the destructive power caused by the Asian tsunami. But what kind of damage did it cause to the underwater ecology in places like the Maldives?

Holidaymakers flock to the Maldives because of its natural beauty and so far they have not been disappointed by what they have seen on land.

Laura Richards, a tourist from England, said: "It's paradise, it's heavenly, I have not been anywhere else in the world that has got such a 'wow' factor. When you arrive, or when you are on the island, it's fantastic."

The Maldives is not just a haven for beach-goers. It is also a paradise for scuba divers, but what was the impact of the tsunami on the marine life?

Seeing is believing. The coral reefs are intact and the fish are hanging around.

That was a pretty good dive in my book, the marine life was abundant and simply breath-taking."

Kamil Niedzielski, Scuba Instructor of Euro Divers, said: "Directly after the tsunami, we were afraid how the reef looks like, because it was connected with very strong current.

"We were diving a few days after the tsunami, we could see that actually nothing happened to the reef, because very often in Maldives, we have very strong currents. Our reefs are used to this. Of course it is extremely strong current, but very little damage if any was done. I cannot see any difference."

If the tsunami could destroy concrete buildings on land, what could have possibly saved the underwater coral reefs?

Azeez Hakeem, Director of Conservation at Banyan Tree, Vabbinfaru, said: "Maldives is made up of several reefs in different directions and different atolls. So when the tsunami came, it must have hit different reefs.

"The force must have been broken at a certain point, and when it reached certain islands, the force was reduced. These reefs must have saved us because what we find is that most of the islands that are facing the eastern side, those really blocked the full impact of it, while most on the western side, were protected by these reefs. This is what I believe."

The locals said the usual heavy storms caused even more damage to the reefs.

There was also an added bonus for those brave enough to take the initial plunge after the tsunami.

Kamil Niedzielski added: "My first impression during the first few dives was that we have more sharks than we had before, but it was only for a few days."

Whether or not you see more fish underwater, it seems the natural beauty and attraction of the Maldives are still there for everyone to discover.

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