The properties of ecosystems could be used more to improve flood protection.
The restoration or preservation of these systems should be included in the early stages of flood protection and climate adaptation strategies.
This was the conclusion of a number of international researchers, who included Bregje van Wesenbeeck, an ecologist with Deltares specialising in ecological engineering, in a paper in the latest edition of ‘Nature Climate Change’.
The researchers emphasise that ecosystems generate socio-economic benefits in addition to flood protection.
They make the natural surroundings more appealing, attracting more recreational visitors.
They can also create a natural habitat for more fish, shrimps and shellfish, generating additional revenue as a result.
In their paper, the researchers looked at three specific examples of ecological engineering: marshes, mangroves and oyster reefs.
Bregje van Wesenbeeck: ‘The systems seaward of dikes play a major role in mitigating wave impact, reducing currents and stabilising the bed. We think most added value can be obtained from synergetic solutions involving the combination of traditional hydraulic engineering technologies, such as the construction of a dike, with the preservation or restoration of functional ecosystems such as the active management of a salt marsh.’
Call for change
Despite the advantages, ecological engineering is still not used widely. The researchers believe that this is because coastal protection has traditionally been developed by engineers. They believe that ecologists should be involved more, and earlier, in flood protection planning to make sure that ecological engineering is introduced widely. Bregje van Wesenbeeck: ‘On top of that, efforts will have to be made to bring engineers and ecologists together. They have to learn to talk each other’s language and to learn the basics of each other’s specialisms. And more projects will have to be organised so that more practical experience can be acquired.’
Ecological engineering is a relatively new concept that still requires extensive research. Deltares is one of the research institutes making a contribution.
Press Release, September 5, 2013