Scientific research has shown that coastal natural infrastructure — such as wetlands, sand dunes, reefs, marshes and mangroves — can lessen the impacts of waves and help absorb floodwaters. And nature can be paired with traditional tools, such as sea walls and breakwaters, to bolster communities’ defenses even more.
For instance, a healthy coral reef can reduce 97 percent of a wave’s energy before it hits the shore, protecting people and property. And during Hurricane Sandy in 2012, coastal wetlands in the Northeast prevented more than $625 million in flood damages, according to a Nature Conservancy study recently published in research journal Scientific Reports.
It’s not just coastal communities that suffer during hurricanes. In cities across the country, paved surfaces worsen flooding because rain cannot soak into the ground, often causing traditional sewer systems to overflow with raw sewage and threaten public health. But natural infrastructure, such as rain gardens, permeable pavement and vegetation-lined channels called bioswales, can help urban areas absorb excessive rain, slowing and filtering waters that flow over the ground.
Natural infrastructure can be less costly than “gray,” or concrete, infrastructure, generally requires little or no maintenance and often lasts longer than traditional infrastructure. And hybrid solutions that combine natural and manmade elements have been found to be even more cost-effective, according to a study
the Conservancy conducted after Hurricane Sandy.
Communities need access to efficient and cost-effective solutions such as natural infrastructure as the world’s changing climate threatens to bring more frequent and more intense storms in the future. Nature-based solutions can help people, families and businesses defend themselves against these growing threats. At the same time, they also provide communities with additional benefits such as enhanced recreational opportunities, increased tourism income, improved wildlife habitat and better water quality.