boy stands next to mangroves in the water

— Photo by ACT Alliance

When the giant waves hit Moawo, a small village on the coast of Nias, a remote Indonesian island in the Indian Ocean off the west coast of Sumatra, there was little to hinder their advance, and the wooden houses in the small fishing settlement quickly succumbed to the tsunami’s ravages. Alerted by the preceding earthquake, most of the villagers were able to run to nearby hills in time. Only one villager died. Yet as the waters receded, the survivors faced the enormous task of rebuilding their lives. 

The Yakkum Emergency Unit, an Indonesian member of the ACT Alliance, accompanied the villagers during the difficult months that followed. YEU built 72 houses with cement foundations, replacing the rickety wooden structures which had easily crumbled under the tsunami’s onslaught. YEU and the villagers built a new street and collaborated on income generation projects to kick start the local economy. 

They also planted mangrove seedlings along the bare coastline. Today, ten years after the tsunami, those mangroves have matured, flourishing into a robust barrier against the sea’s excesses. “The mangroves have worked as a breakwater, slowing down the big waves and stopping erosion,” said Idris Zendrato, a villager. 

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, the 2004 tsunami provided several examples of villages that were saved because of the protection provided by thick mangrove forests. Throughout the region, however, mangroves have suffered from the expansion of shrimp farms and tourism projects, leading environmentalists and disaster risk reduction specialists to argue for their replacement. 

Mangroves also provide a fertile breeding ground for fish and other sea life, helping to revitalize local fishing industries, helping both income and nutrition among villagers. 

“The mangroves have attracted little crabs and little fish, which bring in the big fish. That makes it easier to earn a living as a fisherman,” said Zendrato, who stopped fishing several years ago for health reasons. He built a small store on the front of his house. 

Zendrato said the mangroves help counteract a changing climate. 

“Years ago, before the tsunami, we’d have a tidal surge on the sea about once a month, but now that’s happening four or five times a month. The wind is getting stronger, and the current along the coastline is increasing,” he said. 

Zendrato’s two sons, Fajrin, now 18, and Jefrin, now 13, helped him set out the mangrove seedlings that have today become a marine forest. 

Jefrin doesn’t remember planting mangroves, nor, for that matter, the tsunami. He says older people in the community have told him all about it. A 7th grader today, he says he wants to be a policeman when he grows up. 

“They get a lot of exercise so they always look strong,” he said.


Stay Updated on Disaster Responses

Join the Rapid Information Network to receive updates and more.