Coastal habitat is crucial for storm protection

Preserving coastal habitats such as coral reefs could greatly reduce the number of people and value of property vulnerable to flooding and other storm damage in the United States, researchers say in Nature Climate Change.

In the U.S., “the combination of storms and rising seas is already putting valuable property and large numbers of people in harm’s way,” the team writes. Cities often respond to such threats by building more barriers against encroaching waters. But natural defenses already exist in the form of marshes, kelp forests, seagrass, mangroves, and reefs.

The authors wanted to find out which coastal habitats were most critical to preserve for storm protection. They mapped hazards, residential properties, and human populations (particularly the poor and elderly) along the U.S. coast.

The team estimates that by 2100, “high hazard” areas will contain about 1.7 to 2.1 million people and $400 to $500 billion of residential property. If coastal habitats are lost, the number of people and the property value in danger would roughly double. Florida, New York, and California benefit the most from these natural shields, the authors say. Roberta Kwok | 15 July 2013

Source: Arkema, K.A. et al. 2013. Coastal habitats shield people and property from sea-level rise and storms. Nature Climate Change doi: 10.1038/nclimate1944.

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