The loss of mangrove forests along Myanmar’s coast may have been a critical factor in the catastrophic death toll and damage from Cyclone Nargis earlier this month. This is underscored by several scientific reports after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, which showed that villages nestled within dense mangrove forests suffered less loss of life and withstood more damage during that event than deforested villages. The dense roots and foliage of these salt-tolerant trees can absorb wave energy from tsunamis and storm surges (waves produced by severe weather), thus protecting coastlines.
Cyclone Nargis generated a 3.5-meter-high storm surge that struck Myanmar’s coast, which is home to about half the country’s citizens. For decades, coastal residents have cleared mangrove forests to establish rice paddies that feed the nation. The disaster may regalvanize the efforts to replant mangroves along Southeast Asian coastlines that were prompted by the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004.