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Scientists warn Tonga eruption could damage environment for years | Environment News

Scientists warn Tonga eruption could damage environment for years | Environment News

Infographic: Map showing Tonga's volcano eruption

Scientists studying satellite images have warned that the huge volcanic eruption in Tonga, an island nation in the Pacific, could cause permanent damage to coral reefs and coastlines, and disrupt fisheries.

Hunga Tonga Haapai is an undersea volcano which erupted on Saturday. This caused tsunami warnings across the Pacific.

According to Shane Cronin, a University of Auckland volcanologist, acid rain is likely to continue around Tonga for a while.

Acid rain can cause extensive crop damage, and could impact Tongan staples like corn, bananas, taro and garden vegetables. Cronin said that food security may be compromised depending upon how long the eruptions last.

Satellite imagery suggests that the plume spreads westwards, which could mean that Tonga may be spared some of Fiji’s acid rain.

Fiji’s humanitarian affairs office has confirmed that it is monitoring its air quality. They have advised residents to cover their water tanks and stay indoors in case of rain.

Infographic: Map showing Tonga's volcano eruption(Al Jazeera)

Marine life

Coral reefs could be also damaged by falling ash, which was already a threat before the eruption.

Tom Schils is a University of Guam marine biologist. He stated: Vast areas of reefs in the immediate area of Hunga Tonga have likely been buried or smothered a large amount of volcanic ash.

Schils explained to Reuters that volcanic eruptions like Saturday’s can also release more iron into water. This can increase the growth of blue-green algae, and sponges, which further degrade reefs.

Scientists have yet to investigate on ground, but satellite imagery shows a blanket covered in ash on the surface. According to the Tonga Geological Services the ash can pose a danger to marine life.

Tonga is home to approximately 100,000 people. It comprises 170 islands, 36 of which are inhabited.

Scientists warn of fish migrating or perishing as Tongans depend heavily on the ocean for food and livelihoods.

Marco Brenna, a New Zealand geologist at the University of Otago, stated that it would take a while before new or existing fishing grounds are restored.

Freak waves

Tongan’s sea-level gauge recorded a tsunami of 1.19 metres (about 4 feet) after the eruption. The gauge stopped reporting on the incident. Tsunamis are well-known for causing rapid coastal erosion. This in turn leads to coral reef loss and makes it difficult to deal with rising waters or storm surges.

Map showing Tonga's tsunami warnings(Al Jazeera)

Tonga paid $11m annually for its natural storm buffers. This includes coral reefs and coastal seagrasses. Before the coronavirus epidemic, Tonga’s tourism industry made $5m annually.

Peru oil spillage

The eruption’s freak waves were also blamed for the oil spillage at the Pampilla Refinery, Peru, owned by Spanish company Repsol.

After a small spillage of oil near Lima’s capital, Callao and Ventanilla, Peruvian authorities closed three beaches.

Ruben Ramirez from the Environment Ministry stated that the accident had impacted a 3km stretch (1.8-mile) of the beaches.

Ramirez stated that there is a lot of damage to biodiversity and it could even affect human health. It was therefore decided to close the area to all forms of activity.

The National Emergency Operations Center stated in a statement that the spillage, which occurred while offloading from a tanker was under control.

Brenda Ramos, a Ventanilla resident told AFP the community was still worried.

Ramos said that this impacts fishermen, the people they feed with fish, and marine animals.

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