Coastal Storm Damage Not As Severe Thanks To Mother Nature
July 18, 2013

Coastal Storm Damage Not As Severe Thanks To Mother Nature

April Flowers for - Your Universe Online

People and property along coastal regions are being placed at greater risk by extreme weather, sea-level rise and degraded coastal systems.

A new study by scientists with the Natural Capital Project at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment shows that natural habitats such as dunes and reefs are critical to protecting millions of US residents and billions of dollars in property from coastal storms.

The study, published in Nature Climate Change, is the first to offer a comprehensive map of the entire US coastline showing where and how much protection communities get from natural habitats such as sand dunes, coral reefs, sea grasses and mangroves. Intact ecosystems near vulnerable coastal communities can reduce the likelihood and magnitude of losses.

The study created two maps: one shows the predicted exposure of the United States coastline and coastal population to sea-level rise and storms in the year 2100, while the second map is interactive and can be zoomed in on for the West, Gulf or East coasts; Hawaii or Alaska; or the continental United States.

"The natural environment plays a key role in protecting our nation's coasts," said Katie Arkema, a Woods postdoctoral scholar. "If we lose these defenses, we will either have to have massive investments in engineered defenses or risk greater damage to millions of people and billions in property."

There is a renewed interest in coastal resilience and climate adaptation planning, as well as in finding natural ways to protect America's coastline since the Obama administration's release of the Climate Action Plan on June 25. The administration plans to spend billions of dollars soon on restoration activities in the Gulf of Mexico and the Eastern Seaboard affected by Hurricane Sandy.

The new study will allow leaders to make decisions factoring in natural capital with long-term benefits. "As a nation, we should be investing in nature to protect our coastal communities," said Mary Ruckelshaus, managing director of the Natural Capital Project. "The number of people, poor families, elderly and total value of residential property that are most exposed to hazards can be reduced by half if existing coastal habitats remain fully intact."

At a time when many coastal planners are considering options for dealing with the impacts of sea-level rise, the findings of this study provide both a national and local look at coastal regions where the restoration and conservation of natural habitats could make the largest difference.

"Hardening our shorelines with sea walls and other costly engineering shouldn't be the default solution," said Peter Kareiva, the chief scientist at The Nature Conservancy. "This study helps us identify those places and opportunities we have to keep nature protecting our coastal communities -- and giving us all the other benefits it can provide, such as recreation, fish nurseries, water filtration and erosion control."