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Nature Protects People


Kathy Baughman McLeod

Managing Director, Coastal Risk & Resilience, The Nature Conservancy

March 2016

Rebecca Scheurer (Red Cross) and Kathy McLeod (TNC) talk about the benefits of nature as a powerful disaster preparedness tool.

This week, I’m in South Florida with partners from local government, the private sector and the international community to highlight the vital role that nature plays in protecting people in Miami-Dade County and coastal communities around the world.

Check out the Miami Herald’s coverage of two new exciting projects in the County announced this week (“Miami-Dade turns to nature to combat sea level rise”).

Miami-Dade is one of the most economically vulnerable locations on the planet. With over $345 billion in assets and 2.6 million people at risk due to flooding and sea level rise, powerful solutions are needed in order to keep the county safe.

Seawalls and breakwaters often come to mind as disaster preparedness tools, but these are not the only options. Coral reefs, mangroves, wetlands and sand dunes are the first lines of defense and increasingly recognized for their ability to slow waves, reduce flooding and protect coastal people and property.

Mangrove roots and fish at Union Island, St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Photo © Marjo Aho
Mangrove roots and fish at Union Island, St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Photo © Marjo Aho

A healthy coral reef can reduce 97 percent of a wave’s energy before it hits the shore, and just 100 meters of mangrove trees can reduce wave height by 66 percent. These nature-based solutions are cost-effective, self-maintaining and adaptable to sea-level rise. And they also offer other benefits to communities that traditional “grey infrastructure” solutions simply can’t, including improved water quality, fish production and new ecotourism opportunities.

The old adage applies: an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. My colleague Rebecca Scheurer, Director of the Red Cross Global Disaster Preparedness Center, puts it this way: “we spend millions of dollars on the response side and were we to invest more of those resources on the front end we’d save more people. It’s as simple as that.”

That’s why The Nature Conservancy, Red Cross and other partners are coming together to help at risk governments, communities and business, like those in Miami-Dade County, to understand how investing in natural systems before a disaster can help reduce loss of life and property.

Miami-Dade County has already invested millions of dollars in natural and coastal area protection along with parks, trails and other open spaces to help build resilience and actively address our changing climate. It’s the sort of work that can be replicated in coastal cities globally.

The bottom line is that nature reduces risk and nature protects people. And that can change the world.

Originally Posted on National Geographic

March 31, 2016