Integrating Natural Defenses into Sustainable Coastal Risk Management: New Report
With poorly planned coastal development comes an increase in risk due to coastal hazards and climate change. In the U.S. alone, more than half of the nation’s population lives on the coast. Since 1960, population in coastal areas has increased by 41 percent with concomitant in risk from coastal hazards like hurricanes, storms and flooding. According to the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA), six of the top 10 most expensive natural disasters in our nation were caused by coastal storms. FEMA has determined that 39% of the U.S. population lives in counties subject to significant coastal flooding during a 1-percent annual-chance flood event. These risks to coastal communities are not being adequately addressed and last year the National Academy of Sciences highlighted the need for the development of a broader vision for coastal risk management (read the National Academy of Sciences report on Reducing Coastal Risk).
Working collaboratively, CH2M and The Nature Conservancy have been developing a framework for how to achieve the ambitious goal of helping communities invest in enhancing their resilience by using nature-based solutions. In the new report Coastal Risk Reduction – Integrating Natural Defenses into Sustainable Coastal Risk Management Framework developed by both engineers and conservation scientists, they aim towards a more all-inclusive approach to coastal risk reduction. In partnership, The Nature Conservancy (TNC), a global conservation organization and CH2M, a global environmental engineering company are working to reduce the environmental and socio-economic risks of coastal hazards in a sustainable manner. The report incorporates both nature based and structural options and encourages the valuation of the services including risk reduction that these options provide.
There is a growing body of scientific evidence and project-based experience that coastal habitats such as reefs, wetlands and dunes, can offer cost effective risk reduction. TNC and CH2M have been working together for more than three years on opportunities to examine and compare nature-based and more artificial solutions for risk reduction including site specific projects like Howard Beach, NY.
The work on this Framework was also motivated by the work that TNC and CH2M have been doing together on the Science for People and Nature (SNAP) Coastal Defenses project. Lead Marine Scientist for the Nature Conservancy and co-lead on the SNAP project, Dr. Michael Beck explains that the purpose of the SNAP project and the partnership with CH2M is “Bring together, ecologists, economists and engineers to identify where, when and how oyster reefs, coral reefs, wetlands and mangroves can be effective in reducing risks and vulnerability for people.”
“It is also important to get this knowledge in to the hands of decision-makers. The aim of the “Coastal Risk Reduction” report is to do just that.”
The main goals of the report are to help communities and organizations responsible for management of coastal zones and to understand the benefits of including natural and nature-based options in planning. The authors share lessons learned from across the globe from the past two decades of sustainable coastal risk management and provide an overview of the recommended approach to produce a Strategic Coastal Resilience Plan.
Nigel Pontee, Global Coastal Technology Leader for CH2M, one of the lead authors of the report understands the importance of helping stakeholders understand the full range of possibilities when it comes to successful planning. “CH2M are far more than just engineers. We have various coastal scientists, ecologists, environmental scientists, planners, and stakeholder experts. Much of our work is concerned with advising clients of the best way to manage coasts and improve resilience. In order to get to a good final plan, you have to look at all of the options on the table first. What we’re proposing here is that coastal risk reduction planning should consider the full range of non-structural, natural, nature-based and structural options.”
The proposed planning approach takes into account coastal processes extend beyond the local or site-specific scale and operate over long time periods. “We are advising for scales that are typically larger and longer than many community or even government planning approaches”, stated Pontee. “Coastal sediment cells might for example may extend over 10s or even 100s of miles and sustainable coastal management needs to take this into account. Furthermore, if present day coastal management approaches need to change then local communities need time to adapt. For example in the UK we develop plans for 100 years periods. This is far longer than government periods of office – 4 years.”
“Increasingly there are examples of coastal planning and projects that incorporate nature-based solutions for risk reduction” explained Beck. “now the challenge is to make them a much more common part of planning frameworks and in ways that recognize that natural and more artificial solutions will both be required to make us safer“.
For more information contact:
To dive deeper into coastal resilience:
Read these articles: