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Study: Coral reef restoration can help protect coastal dwellers from rising storm surges

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Coral reef are gardens of biodiversity and also provide valuable services for coastal populations.

Research quantifies benefits of reef conservation

Staff Report

FRISCO — Coral reefs have long been recognized as important cradles of ocean biodiversity, but they also help protect coastal populations from the brunt of storms. A new study claims that reefs reduce wave energy that would otherwise impact coastlines by 97 percent.

“Coral reefs serve as an effective first line of defense to incoming waves, storms and rising seas,” said Dr. Michael Beck, lead marine scientist with The Nature Conservancy and a co-author of the study, “200 million people across more than 80 nations are at risk if coral reefs are not protected and restored.”

“This study illustrates that the restoration and conservation of coral reefs is an important and cost effective solution to reduce risks from coastal hazards and climate change,” said Dr. Filippo Ferrario, lead author from the University of Bologna.

Building artificial breakwaters costs more than 10 times as much as restoring coral reefs, according to the study, which sought to quantify the ecosystem services provided by healthy reefs.

The study found that there are 197 million people worldwide who can receive risk reduction benefits from coral reefs alone or may have to bear higher costs of disasters if the reefs are degraded. These are people in villages, towns, and cities who live in low, risk prone coastal areas (below 10m elevation) and within 50 kilometers of coral reefs.

Conservation efforts are most often directed to more remote reefs, however the study suggests there should also be a focus on reefs closer to the people who will directly benefit from reef restoration and management. In terms of number of people who receive risk reduction benefits from coral reefs, the top 15 countries include:

  1. Indonesia, 41 million
  2. India, 36 million
  3. Philippines, 23 million
  4. China, 16 million
  5. Vietnam, 9 million
  6. Brazil, 8 million
  7. United States, 7 million
  8. Malaysia, 5 million
  9. Sri Lanka, 4 million
  10. Taiwan, 3 million

Additionally, major investments are being made in artificial defense structures such as seawalls for coastal hazard mitigation and climate adaptation. The study shows that the restoration of coral reefs for coastal defense may be as low as 10 precent the cost of building artificial breakwaters. Reef defenses can be enhanced in a cost-effective manner through restoration, a key factor in protecting small island nations and regions with limited fiscal resources.

The study was published last week in the journal Nature Communications by scientists with the University of Bologna, The Nature Conservancy, U. S. Geological Survey, Stanford University and University of California, Santa Cruz.

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