Nature-Based Adaptation

Coastal Resilience enables planners, elected officials, managers and citizens to visualize current and future risk and then help identify a suite of solutions that reduce social and economic risks and maximizing the benefits that nature provides. Nature-based adaptation solutions to date include:

  • protecting or restoring area salt marshes as buffers;
  • developing hybrid approaches that link natural and built defense structures;
  • removing incentives to build in high-risk areas (i.e., often on top of low-lying wetlands); and
  • designing restored oyster reefs to serve as breakwaters tailored to community needs.
Workers install artificial oyster reefs in waters near Grande Isle., LA that will colonize and grow oysters that can help to act as as natural infrastructure to protect fragile coastline.

Workers install artificial oyster reefs in waters near Grande Isle., LA that will colonize and grow oysters that can help to act as as natural infrastructure to protect fragile coastline.

Open Space

Enabling planners to prioritize nature-based solutions to reduce flood risk, lower insurance rates, and improve community resilience.

Coastal Resilience is a program led by The Nature Conservancy to examine nature’s role in reducing coastal flood risk. The program is designed around an online mapping tool that supports communities around the world who are conducting hazard mitigation and climate adaptation planning.

The Community Rating System (CRS) promotes comprehensive floodplain management and encourages communities to go beyond the minimum standards of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). CRS is a voluntary program administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) that rewards communities by providing policyholders discounts on their flood insurance premiums for activities that reduce flood risk.  Activities include, but are not limited to, outreach activities about flood risk, floodplain mapping, and conserving open space.


Planning for growth and adaptation in the face of rising seas and the likelihood of more intense storms is vital to the economic security and wellbeing of communities across the nation. Participation in CRS incentivizes communities to take action to reduce their flood risk and improve resilience while making flood insurance more affordable.

Highway 12 in Rodanthe, NC after Hurricane Irene. Credit: US Fish and Wildlife (2011).


Identifying flood risk reduction opportunities and applying for CRS credits can be overwhelming for many communities who don’t have the capacity to take full advantage of the program. To empower communities to fully participate in CRS, The Nature Conservancy is leading a strategy within the NOAA Digital Coast Partnership to coordinate efforts to meet the goals and objectives of coastal zone management in the U.S. and highlight those actions that also receive CRS credit.

Decision Support Tools

Digital Coast partner organizations including The Nature Conservancy (TNC), NOAA’s Office for Coastal Management (OCM), Association of State of Floodplain Managers (ASFPM), and Coastal States Organization (CSO) are investing in the development of tools and guides to support communities in applying for CRS credits.

NOAA: How-To Map Open Space Preservation for Community Rating System Credits: This guide describes a stepwise workflow to help planners and GIS specialists identify eligible OSP parcels and calculate potential CRS credits.

TNC: The Community Rating System Explorer app provides a mechanism to visualize and interact with outputs that come from the NOAA workflow and allows planners to more effectively engage decision makers, influence land management decisions, and explore unprotected parcels that may be most beneficial to protect for the future. OSP is one of many activities within CRS, and aligns with TNC’s mission to illustrate the value of nature-based solutions to reduce flood risk while also providing the largest amount of CRS points to communities.

Elements Summary and Parcels that qualify for Open Space Preservation Credits in CRS Explorer.

Across eight communities in North Carolina, this tool identified an average of 546 eligible OSP credits, enough to promote each community at least one CRS Class, which would result in a larger flood insurance discount.

The CRS Explorer is expanding to the Gulf of Mexico where TNC and partners prioritized communities that have: a high probability of future flood damages and unprotected high conservation value open space as those that could benefit most from preservation as part of the CRS program. To ensure the app is replicable, updatable, and scalable to other communities across the U.S., a custom model is used to standardize the analyses needed to support the app while enabling communities to maintain their own data over time.

TNC and NOAA are also teaming up with ESRI to develop a national Open Space Preservation (OSP) Map that will be hosted as a downloadable image service on ESRI’s living atlas. This map will help to standardize screening-level impact adjusted OSP data for the nation with the goal of empowering communities that lack high resolution data to more effectively participate in CRS.

ASFPM and CSO: CRS Green Guide: features best practices and case studies derived from interviews with CRS communities earning top scores for CRS elements that preserve or enhance the natural and beneficial functions of floodplains.

Training and Outreach

  • Instructor-led trainings and collaborative workshops that provide step-by-step best practices, live tool demonstrations, scenario based workflows, and assistance for implementation to maximize community participation in the CRS program and to help guide the CRS planning process.
  • Success stories to engage local decision makers on the benefits of the CRS program and highlight lessons learned from top-scoring CRS communities.
  • Online training resources for planners and GIS practitioners including decision support tool tutorials, E-Learning simulations, and comprehensive guidance documents.

Tools & Apps

Coastal Resilience demonstrates the role nature plays in disaster risk reduction and adaptation.

There are many online tools available to assess risk; our focus has increasingly been on identifying conservation, restoration and adaptation solutions.  Below is a list of applications that examine the role of coastal habitats in risk reduction and adaptation:

Coastal Defense

This app quantifies how natural habitats (oyster and coral reefs, tidal marshes, seagrass beds) protect coastal areas by reducing wave-induced erosion and inundation. It uses standard engineering techniques to help you estimate how and where to restore or conserve critical habitat, and increase the resilience of your coastal community and infrastructure.

Habitat Explorer

The Habitat Explorer allows users to interactively identify tidal marshes that can protect people, property, and infrastructure by weighting important variables such as marsh size, infrastructure, critical facilities, and demographic information. With this app users can highlight marshes that may have the highest potential to reduce risk by examining different conservation and restoration scenarios.

Restoration Explorer

The Restoration Explorer allows stakeholders to examine ecological and socio-economic factors for restoration suitability.  In this app a coastal habitat index can be compiled for restoration scenario planning where individual factors can be weighted for importance when identifying potential restoration sites.

Community Rating System Explorer

The Community Rating System Explorer helps planners identify areas that are eligible for Open Space Preservation (OSP) credits in FEMA’s Community Rating System (CRS), a voluntary program that encourages improved floodplain management through discounted flood insurance premiums, and provides exportable information to support the application process.