Coral Reefs: Providing coastal defenses at a fraction of the cost of built infrastracture

Past research on marine health and biodiversity consistently shows that coral reefs play a vital role in overall ocean health. A new study, led by Michael Beck, PI for the Science for Nature and People (SNAP) Coastal Defenses Working Group and a scientist for The Nature Conservancy, suggests the world's reefs can also offer substantial and quantifiable benefits for the world's human population. The results from this quantitative meta-analysis were published this week in Nature Communications.

A major finding in this study suggests coral reefs reduce wave energy by 97% and wave height by 84%. Simply put, the world's reefs are estimated to buffer and protect nearly 200 million people who live near the coast from extreme environmental effects of coastal storms, sea level rise, and other natural hazards associated with coastal living on a global scale. Researchers currently project that efforts to restore coral reefs for coastal defense may be as low as ten percent of the cost of building artificial breakwaters.

SNAP is an collaborative initiative between NCEAS, The Nature Conservancy, and the Wildlife Conservation Society to apply scientific rigor to identifying solutions that have maximum benefit for nature and human well-being. The SNAP Coastal Defenses Working Group is building upon the findings published this week to create a comprehensive meta-analysis of when, where, and how much protection various coastal habitats (mangroves, salt marshes, sea grasses, as well as coral reefs) provide to coastal communities. The goal of the working group is to provide practical tools to decision makers and practitioners on how to implement natural solutions and hybrid natural and built infrastructure to increase coastal defenses from increasing natural hazards.

The effectiveness of coral reefs for coastal hazard risk reduction and adaptation
Filippo Ferrario, Michael W. Beck, Curt D. Storlazzi, Fiorenza Micheli, Christine C. Shepard and Laura Airoldi
Nature Communication 2014

SNAP website


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Posted on May 15, 2014