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Mangrove restoration efficiently reduces flood damage

Coastal ecosystems such as mangrove forests and coral reefs act as natural barriers to storm surges and massive waves, significantly reducing flood damage to people and properties. However, in many regions of the world, the degradation of coastal wetlands and reefs has reduced their ability to protect coastlines from flooding and erosion. Although strategies for restoring these important ecosystems exist, funding for such restoration projects is often hard to find. 

A new study led by the University of California, Santa Cruz has found that restoration of mangroves and coral reefs can be a cost-effective solution for coastal flood reduction in over 20 countries across the Caribbean. By using methods drawn from the risk and insurance industry, the experts provided a rigorous valuation of these natural defenses, showing that the benefits from reduced flood damage could exceed the costs of restoration. These findings suggest new opportunities to support restoration project with funding from sources that support hazard mitigation, disaster recovery, and climate adaptation, including the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). 

“We identify a number of funding sources that have traditionally supported artificial ‘gray infrastructure,’ such as concrete sea walls, and that could be applied to nature-based solutions,” said study lead author Michael Beck, an expert in coastal resilience at UC Santa Cruz. “Funding for artificial infrastructure such as seawalls can be redirected to natural defenses, which provide multiple benefits beyond coastal protection.”

According to Professor Beck and his colleagues, global spending on disaster recovery is currently over 100 times larger than the spending on conservation. “Recovery funding will grow as climate change increases the impacts from storms, and environmental funding will likely shrink as national budgets are strained by natural disasters,” he said.

“There are opportunities to align conservation, flood risk reduction, and climate adaptation to reduce storm risks. There are many places across the Caribbean where habitat restoration for risk reduction could be cost-effective, and these values open significant opportunities to pay for their needed restoration,” the authors concluded.

The study is published in the journal Ecosystem Services.

By Andrei Ionescu, Staff Writer  

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