Importance of Coastal Wetlands Highlighted

As communities across the Southeast United States and the Caribbean count the cost of flood and wind damage during Hurricane Matthew, a pioneering study led by scientists at UC Santa Cruz, Coastal Wetlands and Flood Damage Reduction, has quantified how much protection natural coastal habitats provide during hurricanes.

Using the latest modeling techniques, scientists from the conservation, engineering and insurance sectors studied the impact of Hurricane Sandy in the Northeast United States in 2012, when New York and New Jersey were badly hit by storm surges.

The study found more than $625 million in property damages were prevented during this natural catastrophe by coastal wetlands along the Northeast coast.

Without wetlands, the damage bill would be much higher for Sandy and other predicted hurricanes. Where wetlands remain, the average damage reduction from Sandy was greater than 10 percent.

San Francisco Bay

“We were able to put a dollar value on the coastal protection benefits from wetlands, using Hurricane Sandy as a test case. The results are relevant for many other areas such as San Francisco Bay, where we have lost 85 percent of historic wetlands and face grave risks from future flooding,” said project lead Michael Beck, an adjunct professor of ocean sciences at UC Santa Cruz and lead marine scientist for the Nature Conservancy.

“Our work shows how we can align risk reduction and conservation interests to identify where to do marsh restoration and how to fund it.”

In Maryland, wetlands reduced property damages from Sandy by nearly 30 percent, and in New Jersey, wetlands prevented $425 million in property damages.

In Ocean County, NJ, the conservation of salt marshes is predicted to reduce average annual coastal property losses by more than 20 percent.

Economic value

By quantifying the economic value of natural defenses, they can be more effectively included in risk models and coastal management.

In fact, the protection they provide is often incorporated in industry risk models, but these benefits are often pooled with many other factors and then not clearly recognized by risk modelers, (re)insurers, brokers, clients, and others.

Wetlands can be straightforwardly included in results provided by the risk and engineering sectors and thus more easily considered in coastal development and habitat restoration decisions.

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