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Good reefs provide good coastal protection

disclaimer: image is for illustration purposes only
by staff writers
Princeton, N.J. (UPI) Dec 18, 2006
U.S. scientists say healthy coral reefs provide adjacent coastlines with more protection from tsunamis than do unhealthy or dead reefs.

Spurred by the tsunami that devastated Indian Ocean coastlines two years ago, Princeton University scientists developed the first computer model of a tsunami strike against a reef-bounded shoreline, using a volcanic island as an example.

The model, which demonstrates healthy reefs offer the coast at least twice as much protection as dead reefs, provides the first quantitative confirmation of a widely held theory regarding the value of living coral reefs as a defense against tsunamis.

Geosciences Professor Michael Oppenheimer said his team's work will give scientists the ability to quantify how much a reef will benefit its stretch of coast.

"Healthy reefs have rougher surfaces, which provide friction that slows the waves substantially in comparison with smoother, unhealthy ones," said Oppenheimer. "Scientists had never before studied this effect by the numbers, nor had they ever analyzed it over a wide variety of coastal shapes. This study provides yet another motivating factor for protecting the planet's coral reefs from degradation."

The study appears in the Dec. 14 issue of the journal Geophysical Review Letters.

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