Post-tsunami Coral Recovery in Aceh

Coral reef survey in Aceh Photo
WCS marine biologist Rizya Legawa surveys reefs in Aceh.
©Andrew Baird

On December 26, 2004, an undersea earthquake triggered a tsunami in the Indian Ocean that killed hundreds of thousands of people and devastated parts of Southeast Asia, India, and Africa. The Aceh Territory of northern Sumatra took the brunt of the disaster. The sea’s surges greatly damaged the area’s coral reefs, farms, and forests, which provide food and livelihoods to the surrounding communities. 


Post-tsunami relief and rebuilding efforts, such as provisions of new fishing boats and gear, risked further damage to the reefs and other marine resources. Large amounts of debris and sediment run-off from the denuded land covered some reefs with silt, blocking sunlight and causing coral bleaching. Excess nutrients and sediments also promoted algae growth on some reefs, which discourages coral growth.


  • Integrate sound marine conservation and sustainable fisheries management with the area’s rebuilding efforts
  • Survey the tsunami’s effects on coral reefs and gather information on whether previous human-caused damage exacerbate those effect
  • Survey coral growth recovery in areas under various levels of protections
  • Develop sustainable marine resource and coastal management strategies, which protect biodiversity and livelihoods throughout Indonesia 

What WCS is Doing

In April 2005, WCS marine scientists conducted ecological surveys of 47 sites off the northern Aceh islands. They found that while the tsunami severely damaged the reefs in some sites, overall it was less significant than the damage resulting from prolonged practices of destructive fishing that occurred before the tsunami. In February 2006, our scientists surveyed 33 sites to examine coral recovery and to see if traditional and governmental protections were resulting in higher numbers of reef fish. In some areas that had been destroyed by land runoff, destructive fishing, and the tsunami, the beginning stages of coral growth (coral recruits) were occurring, which should lead to coral recovery over ten years. Fish numbers were similar in reefs protected by government or traditional community means, but numbers were larger than in areas without protections. These findings may make northern Aceh a model for marine conservation throughout Indonesia. WCS seeking to implement the approaches elsewhere. 

From the Newsroom

Troubled Waters: Massive Coral Bleaching in IndonesiaAugust 17, 2010

WCS conservationists and their partners document large-scale coral bleaching and death in the wake of rising surface temperatures in the Andaman Sea on the order of a stunning 4 degrees Celsius.

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