Nature May Protect Coast From Nature

Encore: August 29, 2013

As the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Sandy approaches, plans to protect New York City’s coastline from future potential storms progress.  Earlier this month, President Obama’s Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force released a report [PDF] with recommendations for spending on protective measures.

But in July a new report offered “the first national map” showing where natural habitat might offer another way to reduce risk to people and property on the coast.

The report, authored by the Nature Conservancy and the Natural Capital Project, shows that natural coastal habitat defends 1.3 million people, 250,000 elderly people, and $300 billion of property on the nation’s coasts.

MetroFocus spoke with Peter Karieva, Chief Scientist at the Nature Conservancy and one of the authors of the report.  “One of the sad things is, we don’t have really good maps of exactly where this natural habitat is,” Karieva said.  So the team set out to map the places where habitat conservation and restoration have high potential to protect coastal communities.

In June, Mayor Bloomberg released his own $20 billion strategy, “A Stronger, More Resilient City“, which proposed projects such as beach nourishment and the construction of flood protection structures to reduce risks to coastal areas.  The report also analyzed coastal vulnerabilities and included initiatives to improve wetlands, reefs and living shorelines around the city.

“Cities are some of the most innovative places for all this climate change risk and everything,” said Karieva.  “And Bloomberg’s plan is visionary.”

Karieva said about a third or a quarter of the entire U.S. coastline can be considered “high-risk.”  But rather than wait for the next storm, the Nature Conservancy’s report encourages proactive thinking.

Karieva told MetroFocus’ Rafael Pi Roman, “…all previous studies have been after the fact.  A storm hits, and you see where people are hurt.  What we were trying to do is be proactive.  So we’re giving them information before the next storm and saying, you know, New York, Florida, California – those three states? There’s a lot nature can do for you.  Look closely and you can see it.  So instead of, sort of, chasing the ambulance and going after the fact, let’s get ahead of the game and give the information to the planners before the storm hits.”

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