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Trees Saved Lives From Tsunami on Biak Island, Indonesia

The story of how trees saved islanders from a tsunami.

The Earthquake and Tsunami

The islanders were woken when a massive earthquake with a magnitude of 8.2 struck. On February 17th, 1996, a tsunami caused by an 8.2 earthquake hit the beautiful Biak Island in Papua New Guinea, Indonesia. They hoped the epicentre of the quake was far enough away for Biak to be safe from any after effects.


Several hours later, Biak was hit by a tsunami resulting from the earth quake that reached 7 meters (23 feet) high. 160 people were reported dead, 423 were injured, and 5,090 were left homeless and damage caused was $4.2million . The coastal zones were laid waste by the wave which tore through the mangrove buffer and crashed onto the island causing massive devastation.

Even today large piles of tree trunks can be found lying on the shore line. Remnants of trees completely destroyed by the tsunami can also be seen in the clear waters. in the shallows, and even deep underwater. This disaster is the main reason for the coastal deforestation of the mangroves.

Lives Saved

Had there been no trees on the coast the death toll and devastation caused would have been far, far, higher. All these years later, you can still see the devastating impact. The coastal mangrove buffers were hit very hard but thanks to them very many lives were protected on that dreadful day.

Before and after aerial photographs showing how trees protected houses from a tsunami
Trees protect houses from tsunami © CRPS

Mangrove Ecosystem

Mangrove is the main ecosystem in the coastal area. It plays an important role maintaining the balance of life in the environment supporting countless species. For the people it is important to protect these trees because it protects the coast from hurricanes and tsunami, and it filters pollutants. The #mangroves are a source of food, medicines, fuel and building materials. Despite the vitally important role and functions mangroves have to contribute, they are decreasing in quality and quantity around the world.

Tree Planting

Biak is a relatively small island and part of Indonesia’s West Papua (New Guinea) Province. It is located at the extreme eastern edge of Indonesia. At least 50% of Biak’s forest remains pristine. Another 25% is degraded, but could quickly recover. Tree planting is taking place on the coast restoring the vital mangrove buffer zone and also inland. If we want to save live and support wildlife planting mangroves is of vital importance.

The symbiotic relationship between the trees and the islanders of Biak island is one of the projects being supported by AST.

Amanda Claire


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