They’re bright, beautiful, and home to some of the world’s most gorgeous sea creatures, but did you know that coral reefs also play a critical role in the prevention of flooding? This is according to a new study recently published in Nature.
“Coral reefs serve as natural, low-crested, submerged breakwaters, which provide flood reduction benefits through wave breaking and wave energy attenuation,” wrote the authors of the study. “These processes are functions of reef depth and secondarily rugosity. The flood reduction benefits of coral reefs and other coastal habitats are predicted to be high and even cost-effective in comparison to traditional approaches.”
That’s right – they’re not just beautiful to look at, but they’re practical, too. On average, coral reefs are worth about $4 billion in annual flood protection, according to the researchers (Rice, 2018). The U.S., in particular, receives nearly $100 million annually in direct flood reduction benefits from its reefs.” The researchers of the report claim that the U.S. ranks eighth, globally, in terms of annual reef benefits to people and property in places such as Florida and Hawaii.
The study also discovered that the countries with the most to gain from reef conservation and restoration are Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia, Mexico and Cuba. Per capita, the reefs provide the most benefits to small island states, such as Beliza, Cuba, the Bahamas, and Jamaica.
“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,” study lead author Michael Beck told USA Today. “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.”
So what can we realistically do to help coral reefs?
There are a few steps we can take, such as choosing to dive responsibly while visiting reefs (“8 Easy Ways You Can Help Coral Reefs,” 2018). Another way we can help is by choosing to use reef-friendly sunscreen, as certain sunscreen ingredients (oxybenzone and octinoxate) are known to be toxic to corals. Being mindful of reefs while maintaining your lawn can also help. Although you may live far from an actual reef, the runoff of your lawn may eventually make its way to the ocean. Using green alternatives for fertilizer and pesticides can ultimately help reefs and marine life.
Beck, Michael. “The global flood protection savings provided by coral reefs.” Nature. Retrieved June 13, 2018, from https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-018-04568-z.
Rice, Doyle. “Coral reefs save billions of dollars worldwide by preventing floods.” USA Today. Retrieved June 13, 2018, from https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2018/06/12/coral-reefs-save-billions-dollars-worldwide-preventing-floods/695056002/.
“8 Easy Ways You Can Help Coral Reefs.” The Nature Conservancy. Retrieved June 13, 2018, from https://www.nature.org/ourinitiatives/urgentissues/oceans/coral-reefs/ways-to-help-coral-reefs/index.htm.