Coral reefs protect coastlines from hazards, according to study

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(PNC file photo)

Guam – A study issued by the U.S. Geological Survey on Tuesday highlights the benefits provided by coral reefs in coastal hazard risk reduction.

The U.S. Department of the Interior – Office of Insular Affairs partly funded the in-depth study titled “Rigorously Valuing the Role of U.S. Coral Reefs in Coastal Hazard Risk Reduction.”

According to USGS, the coral reefs provide a flood protection barrier for thousands of coastal residents and $1.8 billion worth of coastal infrastructure in the United States and the trust territories.

According to the study, infrastructure such as hospitals, fire stations, roads, and power plants are protected from coastal flooding by these natural structures.

USGS research geologist Curt Storlazzi led the research, which analyzed flood risk and assessed reef benefits of populated U.S. reef-lined coasts of Hawaii, Florida, American Samoa, Guam, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

According to USGS, this is the first time that scientists have combined real-world computer models of storms and waves with engineering, ecological, mapping and social and economic tools to create detailed, rigorous estimates of the value of coral reef defenses along U.S. mainland and U.S. insular area coastlines both in the long-term (annualized) and for more infrequent events such as 50- or 100-year storms.

Storlazzi said coral reefs are “coastal barriers that can substantially reduce coastal flooding and erosion by reducing the energy of waves as they wash ashore.”

“Our goal in this study was to provide sound science to identify where, when and how U.S. coral reefs provide significant coastal flood reduction benefits to ultimately save dollars and protect lives,” said Storlazzi.

USGS said the study will help managers and stakeholders take effective actions to reduce the risk to and increase the resiliency of these locations to flooding and other hazards.