Tsunami Aftermath: Pulau Weh, Indonesia

MPA News

Last month, MPA News reported on efforts to assess impacts of the Indian Ocean tsunami on MPAs and marine resources (MPA News 6:7). Resource managers, scientists, and volunteers throughout the region continue their work to document the damage and, in some cases, begin repair of natural structures, such as coral reefs.

Marjan van der Burg operates the Lumba Lumba Diving Centre on the island of Pulau Weh, in the Indonesian province of Aceh. Pulau Weh has a 2.8-km2, no-take marine nature park, Taman Wisata Pulau Weh Sabang, managed by a governmental nature conservation agency, KSDA. MPA News spoke with Van der Burg about the impact of the tsunami on the island's marine ecosystem, located so near to mainland areas devastated by the disaster.

MPA News: Have you been able yet to view the underwater impact of the tsunami around Pulau Weh?

Marjan van der Burg: From what we have seen ourselves and heard so far, it seems that the deeper reefs were unaffected by the earthquake and tsunami. However, some shallower areas were damaged. During snorkeling and a shore dive off Gapang Beach - a kilometer south of the marine nature park - I saw a few places with heavily damaged patches of about 2 m across: table corals turned over and broken staghorn coral.

The next beach area to the north, Tepe Layeu, is part of the nature park. I understand that 1/2-m to 1-m sized boulders with porites coral were thrown ashore there. I haven't had the opportunity to dive or snorkel there yet.

A group of marine biologists from Singapore is planning to come the first or second week of March for a reef survey. Another group submitted a project proposal to replant mangroves on the island. We will have to do some clean-up dives once our compressor is repaired [it was flooded by the tsunami] and we can fill our tanks again. I saw jeans, roof material, a cupboard, branches, and other debris lying on the reef, including part of a huge tree trunk stuck under a rock-coral formation.

MPA News: What challenges does the marine nature park face at this point?

Van der Burg: We have heard that one or two small fishing boats from the island have restarted fishing with nets and possibly more destructive methods in the marine park, as a result of our not being able to dive or check the area since the tsunami. The fishermen snorkel and use big stones to bang on the corals to chase fish into their nets. We saw them do the same during the martial law period from May 2003 to May 2004, when no foreign visitors were allowed in Aceh and there were consequently few dive trips going out. At that time, we organized an action with the head of local fishermen from the nearby village, the KSDA, and a local policeman. Otherwise, there has never been regular, official patrolling in the park.

We would like to stimulate some patrolling again, so we are sponsoring the repair of the wooden boat of the KSDA, which was damaged in the tsunami. When the boat is available, KSDA can borrow one of our outboard engines for the next patrol action. But apart from what we are doing ourselves, there is no official project or donation fund available for the patrolling yet.

For more information:

Marjan van der Burg, Lumba Lumba Diving Centre, Gapang Beach - Pulau Weh, Aceh - Sumatra, Indonesia. Tel: +62 811682787; E-mail: info [at] lumbalumba.com; Web: lumbalumba.com