The devastating tsunami of 2004 is a day of darkness to countless people throughout the world. On this day of extreme sorrow and sadness, the republic of Maldives also lost a great many number of her beloved sons and daughters. With a population of only about 300,000 a loss of even 100 is a huge loss in terms of human lives. With an average elevation of only 1.2 meters above sea level, Maldives never had a chance of evading the wrath and the fury of the deadly waves that caught the whole world by surprise.
|Damages in tsunami|
As the country was waking up to face another peaceful day and the community getting ready for one more productive day, the unthinkable happened. The first waves hit the sun kissed beaches of Maldives around 9 a.m. within minutes almost the whole country was caught in the wicked clutches of an unstoppable, unforeseen, destruction which Mother Nature has unleashed upon the world on that day. Wherever the waves touched there was chaos and unfathomable destruction. It was hard for most people even to grasp the very idea that their beloved country was under siege. Sooner than later the country realized the scale of the event and the government of Maldives and her brave heroes, the people of the country, reacted and did acts of heroism to protect the country and her sons and daughters. From there on, an observer could see the strong bond between the Maldivians. Strangers became brothers and sisters, united, putting their own lives in mortal danger to protect the other from the devastation and destruction of the killer waves.
Curiously enough, there were some Atolls and Islands which were spared from the destruction of the waves. One of the most notable one is Addu atoll. Shaped almost like a heart, this Atoll decorates the southern end of the country. Many people believe that Addu atoll was not affected by the tsunami of 2004 because of its unique geographical features. With a population of almost 30,000 people Addu atoll is the second largest population in one single atoll. Male’, the capital city is the most densely populated city in the country with almost 100,000 people. This congestion puts Kaafu Atoll, to which Male’ belongs to, in the first place in terms of the atoll with the biggest population.
Some of the most unique features of Addu atoll include a shallow inner lagoon surrounding the inhabited islands from one side. This lagoon is also protected by an outer chain of uninhabited islands. This feature is most visible in the Hithadhoo region. Hithadhoo is the capital of Addu atoll, Hithadhoo is also the largest Island within the five interconnected Islands of Addu atoll. Some of the other notable features include the naturally occurring fresh water ponds or depressions, locally known as "Kulhi" with dense mangrove growth on the banks and the high elevation of the island from the side where the inner lagoon is not present. This elevation creates a sloping effect throughout the Island of Hithadhoo. Parts of the inner lagoon are also protected by the sturdy mangrove trees that grow in these areas. Though these trees are slightly different from the ones growing in the freshwater ponds, they all play a key role in protecting the fragile environment of the Islands. The mangrove trees acted as a second line of defense for Addu atoll in the Tsunami attack.
|Islands of Addu Atoll|
When the waves hit the lagoons of Addu atoll it was low tide and by the time they reached the first line of defense in Addu atoll some of their power was wasted in filling the outer lagoon. By the time they breached the uninhabited islands and started filling the inner lagoon a big percentage of the wave’s strength was gone. The mangroves absorbed the remaining impact of the force of the waves and hence Addu atoll was protected from devastation. This does not mean that Addu atoll was also fully spared. There was damage to a certain degree in various parts of the island. These were the areas where the defense was weak. The geography of these areas was changed forever. A glimpse of what it would have been like if there were no natural barriers like the mangrove belts and the lagoons.
|Mangrove swamp in Addu|
Mangrove trees are one of the most salt tolerant plants among trees. Different species of mangroves are able to survive in different salt concentrations. They range from a very lower concentration of salt to water with twice the salinity of sea water. The different species have adopted in different ways of dealing with the excess salt. Some use ultrafilteration within the root system and some simply absorb the salt into their tissues. Since these one of a kind trees grow mostly in muddy, swampy areas with very low oxygen concentrations the roots of the trees grow upwards. These aerial roots absorb oxygen from the air through special tiny pores present in them. Another purpose of the extensive network of the root system is to provide the necessary support to the tree in the swampy environment in which they grow. The mangroves provide a safe habitat for young fishes and mud crabs. These organisms prefer these habitats because of the fact that predators can’t access these root systems easily and also because these areas are rich in nutrients. These nutrients are brought in to the system by the tides and the waves. Due to all of these factors a mangrove habitat can be a very rich and diverse ecological place. They also protect the environment from erosion and other natural disasters.
Sadly, there is very little awareness among the population of the Maldives about these important ecological environments which are present in the country. People cut down the mangrove trees for timber and other purposes. These swampy lands in which the mangroves thrive are used as dumping grounds for waste materials. The previous government of Maldives and the current government are not putting enough effort to educate the people about the importance of protecting these wonderful habitats in the Maldives. The general belief among the majority of the Maldivians regarding these habitats is they are useless land which needs to be filled and used for their own benefit. Only a very small group of people understand and try to protect these wonders of nature in this beautiful country. These habitats are one of the many contributing factors to this countries beauty and one of the many reasons why we call the Maldives; last paradise on earth.