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Sunday, April 08, 2007

Solomons 8.0 magnitude quake lifts Ranongga Island 3m out of sea

The seismic jolt that unleashed the deadly Solomons tsunami on Monday lifted an entire island metres out of the sea, destroying some of the world's most pristine coral reefs.

In an instant, the grinding of the Earth's tectonic plates in the 8.0 magnitude earthquake on Monday forced the island of Ranongga up three metres.

Submerged reefs that once attracted scuba divers from around the globe lie exposed and dying after the quake raised the mountainous landmass, which is 32 kilometres long and eight kilometres wide.

Corals that used to form an underwater wonderland of iridescent blues, greens and reds now bleach under the sun, transforming into a barren moonscape surrounding the island. The stench of rotting fish and other marine life stranded on the reefs when the seas receded is overwhelming and the once vibrant coral is dry and crunches underfoot.

Dazed villagers stand on the shoreline, still coming to terms with the cataclysmic shift that changed the geography of their island forever, pushing the shoreline out to sea by up to 70 metres.

At Pienuna, on Ranongga's east coast, locals said much of their harbour had disappeared, leaving only a narrow inlet lined by jagged exposed coral reefs either side.

Villager Harison Gago said there were huge earthquake fissures which had almost split the island in half, gesturing with his hands that some of the cracks were 50 centimetres wide.

Further north at Niu Barae, fisherman Hendrik Kegala who had explored the new underwater landscape of the island with a snorkel said a huge submerged chasm had opened up, running at least 500 metres parallel to the coast.

On the beach at Niu Barae, the earthquake has revealed a sunken vessel that locals believe is a Japanese patrol boat, a remnant of the fierce fighting between Allied forces and the Japanese in WWII.

Mr Kegala said that from the perspective of those on the island, the sea appeared to recede and villagers still feared it would come back again as a tsunami, making them reluctant to return from higher ground where they fled.

Dive sites dying

Danny Kennedy, a dive operator in the provincial capital Gizo, said the earthquake had damaged coral reefs throughout the Solomon Islands' western province.

He said dive sites once ranked among the best in the world were dying because the tremors had upset the fragile natural ecosystem.

"Some of the most beautiful corals are the most delicate and those are the ones that have been affected," he said.

"The more robust corals are still there but it's the ones that people want to photograph, the sea fans and the colourful corals, that are dying."

Mr Kennedy said the damage to the coral reefs could dry up the region's major source of overseas money.

Source: ABC News

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