Living shorelines refer to a broad range of shoreline stabilization techniques that use vegetation, shellfish or other natural resources to stabilize estuarine coasts, bays and tributaries. (Jennifer McPeak/National Wildlife Federation)

From the Public News Service – Florida

A new report shows the best protections from natural disasters could come from nature itself.

“The Protective Value of Nature” report from The National Wildlife Federation and Allied World insurance, evaluates natural systems such as wetlands and forests, and their ability to reduce damage from disasters such as hurricanes, floods and wildfires..

“Natural infrastructure can actually provide significant protection to communities from natural hazards and it’s often just as — if not more — effective than traditional structural infrastructure in reducing risk,” says Jessie Ritter, director of water resources and coastal policy for The National Wildlife Federation

Ritter says natural infrastructure is more cost effective than built infrastructure, which often requires ongoing maintenance. She also notes that nature systems can improve water quality and fish and wildlife habitats.

When it comes to the threat of hurricanes in Florida, Ritter points to native mangroves that continuously protect the state’s coastlines.

“Research found that intact mangroves and river mangrove habitats reduced peak storm surge height by as much as three inches per half mile during hurricanes Charlie and Wilma, and that may not sound like a lot but over space and distance it actually really adds up,” she points out.

The report also details the growing interest in natural infrastructure such as pervious surfaces in urban areas, coastal and forested wetlands as well as sand dunes and living shorelines.

Ritter says more needs to be done to protect natural defenses. She also hopes this approach is mainstreamed and believes more projects on the ground will bolster the case for them.

“The more data we can generate and collect, the better we’re going to become at strategically designing these projects to maximize both the risk reduction benefits and all of the other benefits they can provide to communities,” she states.

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