Effects of Tsunami in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands

For Blog Action Day-15th October 2009

To the organizers of the Blog Action Day,
Thank you very much for selecting such a relevant topic and also inviting a lesser mortal like me to participate in this mega event.

It has been long since I have written in my blogs page, but I am unable to resist to your invitation to write about climate change on the Blog Action Day.

The day I received your invitation in the first week of October 2009, the local newspaper was flooded with the news of a recent earthquake and tsunami in the region. Tsunami batters Pacific islands, Sumatra quake toll crosses 500 and Fear of unspent strain beneath South Asia. The third topic summarised the underlying cause of the massive upheavals taking place on the Earth surface and at times under the sea in the region. I am sure many such events are taking place in the world in the recent times causing concern not only to the scientists and intellectuals but even to the average people like me. Has such events increased in number lately or is it just that the media has become more active and conscious about ecology and environment. But the fact remains, that a time has come, to increase the awareness about the damage we are doing to the environment sometimes consciously and on other occasion inadvertently. We must note the effect, the changes taking place and try our best to reduce the damage and if possible to take some corrective measures.

In this respect I would like to take this opportunity to share my experience with you and your readers about a phenomenon taking place in the Indian subcontinent which I am trying to follow and record to my best ability.

I got an opportunity to explore Andaman and Nicobar Islands, a rather remote area of the Indian Territory in the Bay of Bengal. The natural beauty of the twin archipelagos was breathtaking, the anthropological wealth mind boggling and finally, the richness and the diversity of flora and fauna of the region was unfathomable. Incidentally, many islands of the twin archipelagoes were occupied for long for various purposes by the European community and the Japanese (during Second World War) till as late as the middle of the twentieth century. The history of the place is also thus quite interesting. I was flabbergasted by the overall experience of my stay there.

A massive tsunami caused havoc in the region on the morning hours of 26th Decenber 2004. Over two hundred thousand people perished in the subcontinent in eleven countries. Nicobar Islands my dream destination, was devastated by the catastrophe. As the population of the remote district was comparatively less, loss of over ten thousand human lives in the entire archipelago attracted less attention of the world in comparison to the total loss of lives in the event in other zones.

I was astounded by the wrath of Nature which I noticed in The Nicobar Islands during my visits to the archipelago following tsunami. Due to a possible tilt in the ocean plate many areas of several islands were submerged. Sea had engulfed vast areas of some islands. As almost all the inhabited islands had flat terrain with little elevation they easily got inundated by the submersion of the land.

Majority of the villages were located right on the coast causing high percentage of loss of lives as huge waves washed the localities with unprecedented fury. The people were not aware of such events and have never heard of such a phenomenon excepting in the religious and mythological stories. Majority of the villages on the coast were devastated and the resultant social changes following the event was unimaginable.

The islands of the region particularly the Nicobar group were protected by the coral reefs around them which had grown around the islands for many hundred years. Only gentle waves reached the shores because of the natural barrier. Giant waves of tsunami had uprooted the coral reefs and thrown huge chunks on the interior of the islands thus exposing the soft coast to the sea. Giant monsoon waves are now easily approaching the coast causing erosion of the islands.

I would like to share with you few photographs of the archipelagoes which I have managed to capture during my visits.

A Pre-Tsunami view of the Grub Island.
Post-Tsunami (July 05)
Post-Tsunami (July 05)
Post-Tsunami (March 07)
Post-Tsunami (March 07)

Grub Island situated in the Mahathma Gandhi Marine National Park has remained intact but has lost much of its spectacular sandy beaches. In fact, the gradual change in the topography of the beach of the island during the post-tsunami period has provided a good opportunity to study the continuing readjustment of the Ocean plate. One half of the circular beach all around the island was lost immediately after tsunami (see photograph Jul’05) due to a significant tilt of the Ocean plate. However, the serial photograph captured in Mar’07 shows that the shape of the beach has changed further and has now become tongue-shaped, possibly due to a reduction in the tilt of the Ocean plate and further submersion of the island.

A Pre-Tsunami view of the Car Nicobar Island.
A Pre-Tsunami view of the Car Nicobar Island.
A Post-Tsunami view of the Car Nicobar Island.
A Post-Tsunami view of the Car Nicobar Island.

The southern end of the Car Nicobar Island, during pre-tsunami period, extended well into the sea. As is evident from the post-tsunami photograph, the sea has engulfed this extended end to a great degree blunting the tip. The giant Tsunami waves on that fateful day caused some changes, while at a later date, gradual soil erosion has caused further changes in the shape. The coastal greenery has been completely washed away by the giant Tsunami waves. However, the dense mixed jungle at the centre of the island has remained unaffected. The sea waves, post tsunami are larger and causing extensive soil erosion.

A Pre-Tsunami view of Kakana beach of Car Nicobar. Coral reefs are visible in the foreground.
A Pre-Tsunami view of Kakana beach of Car Nicobar. Coral reefs are visible in the foreground.

Car Nicobar Island used to have a protective coral reef ring all around during the pre-tsunami period. The strength of the sea waves would abate while crossing the reef and only gentle waves would reach the shore. As the corals got completely uprooted and thrown on the land by the giant waves of Tsunami, the seashore now lies completely exposed. Uninterrupted huge monsoon waves are now hitting the coastline with tremendous fury causing unbelievable erosion of the coastline everyday. Kakana beach, which used to have gentle waves due to coral reefs, is now being battered by giant waves.

I hope you have enjoyed this presentation.
I am publishing books describing the natural wealth of the archipelagoes and the effect of tsunami in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. I would like to share my entire experience and photographs with the readers. I would be grateful for suggestions and guidance in this respect from your viewers in my endeavour.

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14 thoughts on “Effects of Tsunami in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands”

  1. I lived on Car Nicobar for four months – October 1955 to February 1956 and found it the most pleasant place to live. I was in the RAF as a Meteorologist and have always talked about the island ever since. I was devastated when I heard about the Tsunami in 2004 and sent a sizeable donation to the relief fund. I mentioned specifically Car Nicobar but I think the money went in to a general fund for the region. I did also write to a newspaper in India at the time and my name was printed with my comments.
    I managed to obtain a book (the only one I was aware of for a long time) about Car Nicobar, written by George Whitehead many years ago. When I saw the picture of Kakana beach, I remember going on there once – we usually went to Mus Bay swimming. The RAF camp was only a few hundred yards away through the “Hulo” from Kakana beach. I was delighted to see the pictures of the beach again. Are you living on Car Nicobar ? I was also concerned as to know if this more recent Tsunami which has affected sumatra has had any effect on Car Nicobar.

  2. Greetings from Florida! I’m bored to death at work so I decided to browse your blog on my iphone during lunch break. I enjoy the knowledge you provide here and can’t wait to take a look when I get home. I’m amazed at how fast your blog loaded on my cell phone .. I’m not even using WIFI, just 3G .. Anyhow, good site!

  3. Dear Renshaw,

    I reopened my blog page after many months and saw your comment. I authored a book titled ‘A Journey through Nicobars'(2011,March) which is the only book on Nicobars written in the post independence era ( Indian independence in 1947). This book is available in amazon.com usa and I do’nt know may be through other dealers also. I have discussed the interesting history as well as how the archipelago has changed since the tsunami disaster with photographs. you can contact my publisher in case you have difficulty in getting the book. e mail woodlandpublishers@hotmail.com

    Thanks for your nostalgic comment,

    Dr Tilak Ranjan Bera

  4. Thanks.I was awarded Fulbright Fellowship and have visited Yale University for an interaction for four months (Jan to May’2012). I explored many regions of USA including Florida and Key West this May.

    Thanks for your encouragement.

    Dr Tilak Ranjan Bera

  5. Hello Mr. Bera,
    thanks for the hint to your book. I will try to purchase it. There is another book though which I have, about post tsunami dwelling and cultural rites of Nicobar in context with the desaster and tribal surviving. Thanks to Mr. Renshaw for your quick insight at former times Nicobar stay. Coinscidently the date of your post was the day of my arrival in Andamans for 3 weeks back then.
    Regards from Germany

  6. Oh my goodness! Awesome article dude! Thank you so much, However
    I am experiencing problems with your RSS. I don’t understand the reason why I can’t subscribe to it.
    Is there anyone else having the same RSS issues?
    Anyone that knows the answer will you kindly
    respond? Thanks!!

  7. Stuart Renshaw.
    I too was a meteorologist at Car Nicobar 1954. I am not sure when I returned to Singapore but probably in the Autumn. You may have replaced me??
    I am in contact with Ian Puffin who was the medic from Sept 54 onwards.

  8. I am delighted to know that many of you are exchanging nostalgic comments after almost six decades of your stay in Nicobars through my website.

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  11. My younger brother got posting in port Blair air force base.he used to post experience s and photos.i casually landed in this blog.. many learner people share their memories. Dating to 1953!54!.I was born in 52.. wonderful blog.good description.lovely company.. I had a dream’ about the underneath mountain! What we see today is top ! I actually prayed to see bigger size! Haha

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