Earthforce - Commentary on the Tsunami
Commentary by Paul Watson
Sea Shepherd Conservation Society
The Indian Ocean has just experienced one of the most devastating tsunamis in recorded history. The death toll is expected to exceed 200,000 human beings, and the economic damage will be in the hundreds of billions of dollars.
Aftershocks are sending secondary tsunamis onto shores still recoiling from the first initial assault.
The Earth harbors powerful forces. Storms, earthquakes, volcanoes, and tsunamis are the price we pay for living upon an active planet. But better a living active planet than a cold lifeless rock in lonely orbit around the sun.
Tsunamis are natural events, and although the loss of human life is high, consider that according to the British medical journal Lancelet, more than 100,000 civilians have been killed in Iraq by U.S. and coalition forces. Our media tends to care more for civilians killed by nature than those killed by our fellow man.
But it is a great tragedy just the same. The losses and the suffering are real. This incredible event will have a lasting impact both on the people and coastal eco-systems of the countries impacted.
Reports are indicating that there were not as many wild animals killed as would be expected. Reports suggest that the animals may have been aware of the approaching waves as people sat on the beaches oblivious of their impending fate.
There was, of course, a large loss of coastal fishes that were deposited on the shore. The tsunami had little direct impact offshore. Some divers reported that they hardly noticed the incoming wave and became aware only when the sea began sucking back bodies and debris around them. In fact, the safest place to have been was at sea, on a boat, or beneath the surface.
The run-off of pollutants and debris sucked back into the sea has created a catastrophe for reefs and coastal eco-systems. The scale of this devastation is enormous.
Many small islands near Indonesia and in the Maldives were totally destroyed. The scouring waters literally erased them from the sea. Entire villages in Indonesia have disappeared without survivors or even a trace of buildings. Entire tribes have been obliterated.
We human beings live but a few brief moments on this ancient globe. Life has flourished and perished for three and a half billion years. Our species has only been around for just over a million, and our so-called civilization has only existed for a few thousand years. Because of this, we forget that the natural history of the Earth is turbulent, unpredictable, and violent.
However, such disasters do strike every generation. One hundred and fifty years ago, a cyclonic-spawned tidal wave took the lives of 200,000 people in the Bay of Bengal. Krakatoa exploded in 1883 killing 37,000 people. A magnitude 9.1 earthquake off Mendocino sent a wall of liquid death onto the shores of Japan in the 17th Century.
Perhaps this event will remind us that -- despite our strutting about as superior beings, lording it over other species, doing what we want when we want to the Earth and her non-human citizens -- we are in the end at the mercy of the forces of nature ourselves.
For millions of years from now, we will be gone, our passing just another chapter in the vast historical library of the Earth. But the Earth will abide, seas will still inundate the land, volcanoes will still blacken the sky periodically, and winds will rage over the surface of land and sea, unleashing torrents of waters punctuated by bolts of lightening. And earthquakes will still send shock waves through the dark depths of the sea to spring upon the shores.
For tsunamis are, after all, merely the movements of the living Earth. This Earth which gives us life, also takes it indiscriminately and without prejudice. For death and life work in harmony to provide rejuvenation. Birth, death, and rebirth. Such is life on planet Earth.
Note: Sea Shepherd Conservation Society wishes to express condolences to the Phuket (Thailand) Animal Welfare Society whose cofounder and Board Member Leone Cosens was killed while attempting to rescue other people.