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Oceans

Coasts at Risk

July 2014

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(11.2 MB PDF)

Looking at coastal nations around the world, many Caribbean nations are some of the highest-risk places in the world, because they have very high exposure to coastal hazards and generally high social vulnerability.

Additionally, social vulnerability was highly correlated with environmental degradation.

The health and abundance of a society’s natural resources—such as reefs, mangroves and fisheries—has a great effect on its ability to resist and bounce back from natural disasters. These natural resources affect everything from quality of life (how well-nourished people are) to livelihoods, jobs and protection from storms.

Adding factors like “fisheries status” to global risk analyses showed that many Caribbean nations fared even worse than before. Integrating these new factors created a better picture of real risk. When fish and catches are small and harder to get, people are more vulnerable.

Looking across the 25 countries with the very highest risk, more than 500 million people depend on marine fisheries for protein.

The good news is that there are things that we can do. This research also finds that reefs and mangroves can be cost effectively restored and this has major effects on protecting coastlines from waves and storms. In fact, reefs can reduce a full 97 percent of the wave energy that would otherwise hit coastlines. And the food, jobs, recreation and other services that these habitats provide improve livelihoods as well.

Currently, reefs and mangroves provide risk reduction benefits to more than 15 million people across the Caribbean and some 250 million people globally. But, the numbers could still be greatly expanded. Better fisheries management is not just an environmental issue; it is also a social vulnerability issue. Governments, aid and conservation groups, and local organizations need to focus more on improving how communities manage their fisheries if we are to have a real impact on reducing risk.

Better development choices could support both risk reduc­tion and conservation goals. This is particularly true in post-disaster recovery efforts. If governments and development funders take a more cautious approach—one that also takes into consideration the value and health of local environmental systems—when rebuilding in the highest risk, low-lying areas, communities will decrease their future vulnerability.

Of course, these improvements cannot occur without significant collaboration. There is significant opportunity for development, aid and environment groups to better work together on these opportunities in ways that could reduce risks to both nature and people.