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Coral Reefs Provide Critical Coastal Protection

New study shows that coral reefs provide risk-reduction benefits to hundreds of millions of coastal inhabitants around the world

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Stronger storms, rising seas, and flooding are placing hundreds of millions people at risk around the world, and a big part of the solution to decrease those risks is just offshore. A new study finds that coral reefs provide substantial protection against natural hazards by reducing wave energy that would otherwise impact coastlines by an average of 97 percent.

“Coral reefs are wonderful natural features that, when healthy, can provide wave-reduction benefits comparable to those of many artificial coastal defenses, and they can adapt to sea-level rise,” said Curt Storlazzi, a coauthor from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). “This research shows that coral reef restoration can be a cost-effective way to decrease the hazards coastal communities face due to the combination of storms and sea-level rise.”

Above: This unique perspective taken from underwater shows a wave crashing over a coral reef protecting the low-lying islands on Kwajalein Atoll in the Republic of the Marshall Islands. It clearly illustrates how healthy coral reefs cause waves to break offshore and dissipate their energy before reaching the shoreline, lessening the probability of coastal erosion and inundation. USGS photograph by Curt Storlazzi. [larger version]

Published in the journal Nature Communications, this study by an international team of researchers from the University of Bologna, The Nature Conservancy, the USGS, Stanford University, and the University of California Santa Cruz provides the first global synthesis of the contributions of coral reefs to risk reduction and adaptation across the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans.

Lead author Filippo Ferrario from the University of Bologna said, “Restoration and conservation of coral reefs is an important and cost-effective solution to reduce risks from coastal hazards and climate change.”

The median cost for building artificial breakwaters is $19,791 per meter, compared to $1,290 per meter for coral reef restoration projects.

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

These are people in villages, towns, and cities who live in low-elevation, risk-prone coastal areas (below 10-meter elevation) and within 50 kilometers of coral reefs. 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
  11. Singapore, 3 million
  12. Cuba, 3 million
  13. Hong Kong, 2 million
  14. Tanzania, 2 million
  15. Saudi Arabia, 2 million

For more information, read the USGS news release.

See related stories in the Spring 2014 issue of NEWSWAVE, including a special feature on the U.S. Department of the Interior’s “Diverse Role in Coral Reef Protection” and an article on DOI’s involvement with the Coral Triangle Initiative, a multilateral ocean governance initiative to safeguard the marine and coastal resources of the six countries of Southeast Asia’s Coral Triangle—Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Solomon Islands, and Timor-Leste.

Related Sound Waves Stories
Coral Reef Health and Environmental Changes in the Florida Keys and the Caribbean Sea—Video Podcasts Highlight USGS Research
April / May 2011
USGS and Hawai‘i Researchers Collaborate to Better Understand Changing Coral Reef Ecosystems Along West Maui, Hawai‘i
Sept. / Oct. 2013
Coral Records of Sediment Input to the Fringing Reef of Moloka‘i, Hawai‘i
Aug. / Sept. 2010
Impacts of Ocean Acidification on Coral Growth: Historical Perspectives from Core-Based Studies
November 2009

Related Websites
USGS News Release—Coral Reefs are Critical for Risk Reduction & Adaptation
U.S. Coral Reef Task Force
Coral Reef Ecosystem Studies (CREST)
USGS Pacific Coral Reefs Website

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in this issue:

cover story:
Earthquake, Landslide, and Tsunami Hazards in the Caribbean

Through the Eyes of a Polar Bear—First "Point of View" Video

Spotlight on Sandy
Hurricane Sandy Impacts Did Not Contribute to Subsequent Storm Flooding

New Personnel Study Estuarine Response to Storms

Summer Hires Assist Studies of Coastal Sediment Transport

Tracking Oil—USGS Tools and Analysis Inform Oil-Spill Response

Help Identify Coastal Hazards with Aerial Photographs on "iCoast" Website

Coral Reefs Provide Critical Protection to Coastal Inhabitants

New Postdoctoral Researchers at USGS in Woods Hole, Massachusetts

Summer Intern at USGS in Woods Hole, Massachusetts

Publications New USGS Coastal and Marine Geology Web Pages

Facilitating Identification of Coastal and Undersea Features

May / June Publications

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