Last updated June 21, 2018 at 1:38 pm
Cost of flood damage soaring, study finds.
We don’t really need more proof that we really need coral reefs, but researchers from the Nature Conservancy in California have provided it.
They’ve found that the cost of damage from floods would double without them. Or, to look at it the other way, Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia, Mexico and Cuba could save more than $400 million a year each if they invested more in reef management.
In what they say was the first study of its size, the researchers used models commonly applied in the engineering and insurance sectors to quantify and value the flood reduction benefits provided by coral reefs, which reduce flooding by breaking waves and reducing wave energy.
They compared the flooding that occurs now with what would happen if just the top one metre of living coral reef was lost – which is already happening.
“Unfortunately, we are already losing the height and complexity of shallow reefs around the world, so we are likely already seeing increases in flood damages along many tropical coastlines,” said Dr Michael W. Beck, from the Nature Conservancy and UC Santa Cruz.
“Our national economies are normally only valued by how much we take from nature. For the first time, we can now value what every national economy gains in flood savings by conserving its coral reefs every year.”
Double, triple, even quadruple
Beck and his colleagues estimate that without living coral reefs expected annual expected damages from flooding would double (an increase of US$4 billion) while from frequent storms it would triple, or quadruple if coupled with sea level rises. For the 1-in-100 year storms, flood damage could increase by 91 per cent to $272 billion.
The study finds that per capita reefs provide the most benefits to small island states, including the Cayman Islands, Belize, Grenada, Cuba, Bahamas, Jamaica and the Philippines.
“These estimates make a compelling case for present-day spending on reef management without assuming that reefs will disappear altogether under a business as usual scenario; nor do they rely on just rare, large storms,” said Dr Borja Reguero from UC Santa Cruz.
“Better valuations of the benefits provided by coastal habitats like coral reefs, provided in terms familiar to decision makers, can help decision makers recognise the value and ensure the protection of these critical habitats and their services.”
The researchers say they have begun working with disaster agencies and the insurance industry, including FEMA, the World Bank, Munich Re, Swiss Re, and Lloyd’s, to use these results to inform funding decisions and insurance tools that can support reef restoration for risk reduction.
The results from these analyses are mappable and downloadable on the Natural Coastal Protection app.
The paper published in Nature Communications.