Wetlands such as mangrove forests, marshes, and seagrass beds are critical habitats for a wide variety of species. They also serve to protect inland areas from storm surges and strong winds. A new analysis of Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico coastal storms has also found that areas with larger wetlands experience lower property damage costs during large storms.
The study, produced by the University of California, San Diego, analyzed 88 tropical cyclones and hurricanes that struck the U.S. starting in 1996. Researchers found that one square kilometer of wetlands saved an average of $1.8 million per year. This means that over the next three decades, a single unit of wetlands could mitigate $36 million in storm damage. Other critical factors that impacted economic damage were coastline shape, elevation, building codes, and chance of actually experiencing damaging winds.
As an added bonus, the team found no significant difference in positive impact between salt and freshwater wetlands or between mangroves and marshes. Basically, all wetlands are good wetlands when it comes to preserving areas during storm surges.
Unfortunately, wetlands are disappearing. The study found that Floridians would have been spared $480 million in property damage from Hurricane Irma if the state’s wetlands had not shrunk so significantly over the past decade. This new evidence draws a direct link between wetland conservation and property protection and safety during storms. As climate change increases the intensity of storms, protecting our wetlands is a more vital solution than ever for protecting coastal communities.