‘Green’ coastal protection solutions could prevent damages worth $50 billion in the Gulf of Mexico
New research in the PLOS One peer reviewed journal reveals that nature-based solutions are more cost effective than artificial solutions in preventing flooding in the Gulf of Mexico.
The research found that the restoration of marshes and oyster reefs are some of the most effective solutions.
According to the research conducted by UC Santa Cruz, the Nature Conservancy, and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology nature-based solutions could help avoid over 45% of climate risks in the region over a 20-year period, saving over $50 billion in damages.
Wetland and reef restoration can have a benefit to cost ratio of over seven to one, meaning that for every $1 spent on restoration there is $7 worth of direct flood reduction benefits.
Although artificial solutions, such as levees, are effective they often have a benefit to cost ratio of one to one, meaning they are expensive to implement on large scales.
The research used Economics of Climate Adaptation to understand the drivers of coastal risk and to evaluate cost-effectiveness.
In 2017 the Gulf of Mexico, the US and the Caribbean suffered severe damage due to a number of hurricanes.
For example, hurricane Irma and Maria caused US$64.8 billion and US$91.61billion worth of damage respectively.
Climate change threatens the region and the US Gulf Coast faces increased frequency and intensity of tropical storms, as well as rising sea level and subsidence.
The study confirmed that in the Gulf region flood risks will increase and this is primarily driven by coastal development; the more people who are exposed the greater the risk.
However, the study found climate change will cause more frequent losses, with weather and flooding events that cost $100 billion becoming up to three times more frequent.
Although the US is investing in coastal protection strategies, this is mostly focused on artificial, or ‘grey’, solutions that can degrade ecosystems.
The new research supports the growing interest in nature based, or ‘green’, solutions such as restoration of wetlands.
In the Gulf of Mexico reefs, wetlands, barrier islands and sand dunes can protect against flooding by reducing wave energy, trapping sediment and reducing storm surges.
Michael Beck, lead marine scientist at the Nature Conservancy and a research professor at UC Santa Cruz commented:
"We show that nature-based measures for flood reduction can be considered right alongside artificial or grey measures such as seawalls in industry-based benefit-cost models. This removes a major impediment for engineers, insurers, and risk management agencies for building coastal resilience more naturally”
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Image credit: The World Bank