Tsunami damages east coast coconut plots
Coconut plantations may have suffered some damage from the December 26 tsunamis which ravaged the island's eastern and southern coastline killing over 30,000 people.

However, the desiccated coconut industry is not affected as it gets its supplies from large estates in the north-western 'coconut triangle' which was not affected at all by the tsunami. Most DC mills are closed at this time of year.

Dr Jayantha Gunatilake, chairman of the Coconut Cultivation Board (CCB), said initial estimates suggested that some 20-30 percent of the cultivated palms could have been affected by the huge waves which swamped large swathes of the coastline.

The sandy soil in coastal areas is considered suitable for coconut cultivation but excessive levels of salinity in plots inundated by sea water could affect coconut production.

Dr Gunatilake said there was some damage to coconut seedlings, more severely in the east coast, which bore the brunt of the tsunami as it was directly in line with the submarine earthquake's epicentre off Sumatra island across the Indian Ocean.

"We have an estate in Pottuvil (on the south-east coast) which has been affected," he said. However, Denzil Aponso, chairman of the Coconut Growers Association, said coconut production in the main growing areas does not appear to have been affected.

"There has not been much damage," he said. There was hardly any impact on coconut cultivation on the west coast, the main growing area, Aponso said. He said he did not have much information about the east coast but added that many palms there had been neglected and were not contributing much to the national crop after being struck by a cyclone some 20 years ago.

That cyclone badly damaged the palms which were not replanted and many estates were abandoned. Aponso also said he believes coconut trees submerged for a few minutes by sea water would not suffer much damage and that the effects of salinity in the sand were "marginal." However, the CCB's Dr Gunatilake said that while coconut trees can tolerate salinity to some extent, 3-4 months of rain would be required to wash away excessive salinity in the soil.

Some coconut trees, mainly old ones, on the east coast had been uprooted by the fast moving water, causing permanent damage to plots. Dr Gunatilake said he had visited the southern Galle district, which was also badly affected, and had seen some trees withering because they could not tolerate sea water.

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