Coral reefs have an annual flood protection volume of $1.8 billion.

The Planet loses more animals than at any other time in human history is according to a study collected by hundred in researchers from 50 countries.


The news is gruesome: hundreds of experts from 50 countries estimate that the Planet kills more animals than ever before in human history. The news is horrific. Environmental change, coastal growth and the consequences of activities such as mining, forestry, and fisheries mean that about 1 million plants and animals have to be extinct.

The United Nations report calls for urgent action at every level to preserve and sustainably use nature, from the local to the global. And here’s a piece of good news: many now endangered habitats can provide useful services when secured.

From my coastal ecosystem work, I know that the greatest barrier to investment in natural resources such as wetlands and reefs has always been the inability of experts to find out how to value the protection offered by these ecosystems economically. However, a new paper, released by the USA, which I co-author. This dilemma is solved by one of the most biodiverse habitats on the world: coral reefs by the Geological Survey Coastal Hazards program.

This study shows the more than $1.8 billion in flood prevention benefits that coral reefs in U.S. waters, ranging from Florida and the Caribbean to Hawaii and Guam, provide our nation each year. They mitigate direct flood damage worth over $800 million annually to private and public properties and help avoid increased living and livelihood costs of an estimated $1 billion. The first step in mobilizing resources to protect them is to assess reef benefits so rigorously.

Healthy coral reefs with live coral offer significantly better shelter from coastal floods than low live coral reefs.

Reefs behave like dipped breakwaters. They “cook” waves and drain offshore water, until coastal property and communities flood. This role is extremely valuable. During 2017, the country alone was battered by tropical storms of over $265 billion.

Manmade defenses can damage neighboring environments and damage their reliable organisms, such as the sea walls. Healthy reefs, by comparison, improve the environment from diving to surfing by protecting coastlines and promoting fishery and recreation.

The flood mitigation advantages offered by reefs in the U.S. are comparable to those received by over 60 other countries. The global cost for storm damage to the world coasts will double without reefs, as I predicted in a separate survey with colleagues.

The evaluation of the reef flood protection value provides cutting edge methods for flood hazards and advantages that engineers and insurers use.

We have produced flood risk charts, which display the magnitude of, and depth of, flooding in and outside the reef, both intermittent and catastrophic, using a model for all US states and territories with reefs–a total area of over 1,900 miles. Such values have been measured in grid cells containing just 100 m2 or roughly 1,000 m2–that is, the footprint of a tiny house.

Such flood risk maps were then overlaid by new information from the USA. In order to recognize people and resources at risk and to benefit from reef presence in each location, the Census Bureau and the federal emergency management agency.

Chart of the floodplains of South Maui, Hawaii for one hundred years. They explain the flooding with reefs currently in a 1 in 100-year occurrence (blue) and the expected flooding (rouge) when we lose the maximum 1 m (3 ft.) of the reef. The citizens and resources below the red zone will benefit from the protection of reefs.

Through this degree of the information we can now recognize, but who is getting, not just the complete benefits provided by reefs. Florida, for example, provides an annual flood coverage of more than $675 million and Puerto Rico provides annual insurance of over $183 million. We find that reefs provide more than $435 million for the safety of Honolulu alone from a devastating storm of 1 in 50 years–an occurrence that would only take place once in a half year.

Coral reefs, which warm oceans, are under extreme pressure as a result of the climate change that causes coral blankets, are well known. Overfishing and pollution cause significant harm as well. The Planet lost approximately half of its live reef cover since the 1870s according to the United Nations study on biodiversity loss. And that is raising the possibility of the loss of coastal habitat security to 100-300 million in coastal areas.

When will our coral reef security evaluation be informed?

First of all, it stresses the use of disaster relief funds to help restore natural coastal defenses. Only about 1% of the recovery funds were used for the restoration of natural resilience after hurricane Sandy in2012, despite more studies showing that flood risk could be decreased every year by some 16% in the North-East.

It would make economic sense to invest some of these funds on rebuilding reefs, as more than $100 billion is being planned to rebuild from hurricanes Harvey, Maria as Irma. In a positive development, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has developed incentives to legally use environmental resources, such as flood control and fisheries production, to measure costs, in order to promote funding for flood mitigation.

Restoration of coral reefs in Hawaii starts by improving land management policies in order to reduce erosion.

Furthermore, a significant role must be played by the insurance industry in providing benefits and promoting investment in defenses of nature to reduce risk. Insurers begin to understand ecosystems and establish ways to protect nature in industrial risk models. Reefs can also be repaired if they experience storm damage or are now also restored based on proven flood protection (i.e. premium save).

Third, federal agencies have opportunities to invest as vital infrastructure security in reefs. Reefs defend the military bases of many economies from Hawaii to Florida and Puerto Rico along the tropical littoral lines and the shoreline roads.

The military corps of engineers use natural solutions to mitigate flood risks through its Engineering with Nature program. And the United States. The Transportation Department analyzes ways of preserving coastal roads with approaches focused on nature, including conservation of marsh. Such services are a successful beginning.

The latest United Nations study clearly outlines the main threats to habitats and biodiversity. Their research offers strict economic and social principles that measure the stakes. I hope that it will generate new opportunities to invest in the protection of and restoration of the coral reef and to develop coastal resilience.

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