Tsunami hits Solomon Islands

Posted on 10 April 2007
A powerful tsunami that crashed into the low-lying parts of the Solomon Islands' Western Province on 2 April, 2007, has killed dozens and left thousands homeless.

The tsunami was triggered by a large 8.1-magnitude earthquake centred at sea 345km north-west of the island nation's capital, Honiara. Three metre high waves were reported in some areas, wiping out entire villages and causing extensive damage to the environment.

"You could see the water retreat, going way back out and exposing the coral reef that surrounds the island. It was completely dry and everybody knew there was going to be a wave. People just ran...trying to get to high ground," said Laura Vallee, WWF's Conservation Manager for the Solomon Islands based in Gizo.

The great concern is for those people who have not only lost their homes and possessions but also their livelihoods from the sea.

Coastal resources are particularly important in Western Province, where many communities rely on fish as a valuable source of protein.

The island of Ghizo, close to the earthquake's epicentre, bore the brunt of the devastation. WWF's project office on Ghizo suffered damage, but all 15 staff members, including four community-based field staff on some of the smaller outlying islands - Ranongga, Vella Lavella, Kohingo and Kolombangara - are all accounted for and safe.

Staff members have temporarily put aside their conservation work to assist in humanitarian relief efforts following the earthquake and tsunami. The office will then help assess damage to the marine and terrestrial environments and contribute to environmentally-sound reconstruction efforts.

For the past ten years WWF has been working in the Solomon Islands, focusing on community resource conservation and development, with an emphasis on forest and marine protection.

Initial reports from the WWF Solomon Islands office indicate that the marine and coastal environment have been badly damaged by the tsunami, including the Gizo Marine Conservation Area (GMCA). On nearby Ranongga Island, along the villages from Peinuna to Ombobulu where WWF has been working with the communities to establish marine protected areas, coral reefs in the marine protected area are dying after being uplifted out of the sea by three metres; the shoreline has extended out to sea by up to 70m. Coral reefs off of Njari Island, the site of the second highest number of fish species ever recorded in a WWF survey for the area and a key MPA site in the Gizo Marine Conservation Area, have been reduced to rubble. Parts of the MPA established by the Boboe community on Kohingo have also been damaged and a coral farm established as a sustainable livelihood project has been badly damaged.

"This is bad news from a marine ecosystem point of view and the future livelihoods of people around here. Ranongga Island, on the side facing Gizo, has lifted up to 3 metres in parts and has suffered landslides on the opposite side of the island. The MPA that we were working with - field assistant Cherry Tanito's community - is now 3 metres out of the sea and his village of Neami is now 70 ms from the shore - it used to be only about 10 ms away. All of the houses in Cherry's village have been flattened." - Jackie Thomas, WWF Country Programme Manager, WWF Solomon Islands.

The Gizo Marine Conservation Area (GMCA) has more than 10 MPAs including Njari Island and many sites which are community owned and managed. However, several are on the southern side of Gizo which bore the brunt of the tsunami wiping out many of the villages of those communities partnering with WWF in the GMCA. No assessment of these sites has been undertaken but it can be expected these reefs will have suffered severe damage from the earthquake and the tsunami.

WWF International has allocated funds to assist WWF staff and their families with immediate needs. An organization-wide appeal for donations by WWF staff for affected colleagues in the region will also be launched in the coming weeks.

For further information, contact Doreen Linga or Ashwini Prabha