It’s a simple but all-to-often overlooked fact: nature protects people. Marshes, reefs, mangroves, dunes, floodplains and other natural systems can play a much larger part in increasing resilience around the world than we allow for today.
For example, our scientists have determined that a healthy coral reef can absorb a full 97 percent of a wave’s power that would otherwise hit the shore.
Further, we have also determined that natural breakwaters, such as reefs and marshes, are often times more cost effective than traditional sea walls. When healthy, they grow over time, unlike a seawall that erodes over time. And an expanded natural defense system can offer other benefits to communities that traditional engineered solutions simply can’t, including improved water quality, fish production and new ecotourism opportunities.
Importantly, we also know that nature cannot give us all the coastal protection we need on its own. Often the best solution for communities is a blended one that integrates natural barriers alongside engineered ones. Ultimately, it’s about optimizing a community’s defenses for the long run at the most efficient cost possible.
As we begin this year’s hurricane season, we know that preparing for natural disaster is complex and so is recovering from it. Beyond a community’s big coastal infrastructure decisions, there’s still plenty to think about: early warning systems, fortification of structures, evacuation planning and providing for essential services when normal service is unavailable.
But coastal communities—and the industries that protect and insure them—should also remember these three words: Nature. Reduces. Risk.