Coastal development and climate change increase the risk of flooding, with the associated material damage. Good management and recovery of coral reefs could save hundreds of millions of euros in coastal areas around the world, according to a new study.
Coral reefs serve as submerged natural breakwaters that reduce flooding. They are capable of destroying waves and dissipating their energy, so they are the first line of defense. A study published this week inNature Communications, in which the University of Cantabria participates, analyzes the number of people and properties that find protection in these habitats. In addition, the work evaluates the consequences of their possible disappearance.
To quantify and value the global savings and benefits provided by coral reefs around the world, researchers have used proprietary engineering and insurance models.
The study compares current floods with those that could occur in coastal areas if up to a meter in height were lost from coral reefs, losses that are already happening on a global scale.
“Unfortunately, today, both height and complexity are being lost from the world's deep reefs. That is why we are witnessing an increase in flood-related damage on many tropical coasts ”, explains Michael W. Beck, a marine scientist at The Nature Conservancy and a professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz (USA).
“Normally, national economies are only evaluated by taking into account what we take from nature. Now and for the first time, we can also evaluate what each of these economies gains annually through savings caused by fewer floods thanks to the conservation of the reefs ”, concludes the expert.
Consequences of reef loss
Without these natural barriers, flood damage would double to nearly $ 4 billion (about € 3 billion), and storm costs would triple. If the rise in sea level is also taken into account, floods could quadruple. And for the strongest storms, flood damage could increase by 91%, a total of $ 272,000 (about 230 billion euros).
"We have built the best global coastal flood model to estimate its risk and we added reefs to account for the benefits that these habitats provide," explains Íñigo Losada, from the IHCantabria at the University of Cantabria.
The countries that would benefit the most from reef conservation and restoration would be Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia, Mexico and Cuba, whose individual annual savings in flood damage would be about $ 400,000 (about € 339,000). Also the US, with almost 100,000 dollars in annual savings (about 84,800 euros).
If we consider the devastating impact of tropical storms in recent years, such as Hurricanes Irma and Maria and Typhoon Haiyan, the effects could have been much worse had these marine habitats not been present.
Unfortunately, corals are faced with threats such as coastal development, exploitation of sand and corals, destructive overfishing, storms, and bleaching.
"The study of the benefits that coral reefs provide to the coast can help make better decisions, recognizing their value and guaranteeing their protection," explains Borja Reguero, a researcher at the University of California at Santa Cruz.
The study provides clear evidence of why reef management should be influenced. The savings from maintaining these habitats can serve governments in their recovery plans.
“Coral reefs are living ecosystems that can be recovered if they are managed properly. This study identifies why and where to seek the help needed for such a restoration, ”explains Beck. "We hope this science will lead to action and greater stewardship of reefs around the world."
Beck, Michael W .; Losada, Íñigo J .; Menéndez, Pelayo; Reguero, Borja G .; Simal Days, Pedro; Fernández, Felipe. The global flood protection savings provided by coral reefs.Nature Communications, June 12, 2018. DOI: 10.1038 / s41467-018-04568-z