From: Editor, ENN
Published July 17, 2013 05:02 PM

Need Storm Protection? Turn to Mother Nature

While it's not a new concept that the best defense against catastrophic storms are natural habitats such as dunes and reefs, a new study by scientists with the Natural Capital Project at the Standford Woods Institute for the Environment urges that natural barriers are critical to protecting millions of US residents and billions of dollars in property damage.


Published July 14 in the journal Nature Climate Change, the study "Coastal habitats shield people and property from sea-level rise and storms" offers the first comprehensive map of the entire US coastline to show where and how much protection communities get from natural barriers.

Extreme weather, sea level rise and degraded coastal systems are placing people and property at greater risk especially with the upsurge of catastrophic storms that are pounding US coastlines. 

Sand dunes, coral reefs, sea grasses and mangroves can all protect inland features when storms occur and sea level rises, so protection and use of the barriers is critical for coastal planning.

"The natural environment plays a key role in protecting our nation's coasts," said study lead author 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."

The study offers several maps including predicted exposure of the United States coastline and coastal population to sea level rise and storms in the year 2100 and an interactive map can be zoomed in on for the West, Gulf or East coasts; Hawaii or Alaska; or the continental United States.

"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."

The study provides both a national and a localized look at coastal areas where restoration and conservation of natural habitats could make the biggest 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 and co-author of the study. "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."

Read more at Stanford News.

Sand dune image via Shutterstock.

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