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Original Research ARTICLE Provisionally accepted The full-text will be published soon. Notify me

Front. Mar. Sci. | doi: 10.3389/fmars.2019.00556

Advancing coastal risk reduction science and implementation by accounting for climate, ecosystems and people

 Jessica M. Silver1, 2*,  Katie K. Arkema1, 2*, Robert M. Griffin1, Brett Lashley3,  Michele H. Lemay4,  Sergio Maldonado1, Stacey H. Moultrie5, Mary Ruckelshaus1, 2, Steven Schill6, Adelle Thomas7, Katherine Wyatt1, 2 and  Gregory M. Verutes8
  • 1Stanford University, United States
  • 2University of Washington, United States
  • 3Office of the Prime Minister of the Bahamas, Bahamas
  • 4Inter-American Development Bank, United States
  • 5Other, Bahamas
  • 6The Nature Conservancy (Bahamas), Bahamas
  • 7College of The Bahamas, Bahamas
  • 8National Audubon Society, United States

Climate change and population growth are degrading coastal ecosystems and increasing risks to communities and infrastructure. Reliance on seawalls and other types of hardened shorelines is unsustainable in an era of rising seas, given the costs to build and maintain these structures and their unintended consequences on ecosystems. This is especially true for communities that depend on coastal and marine ecosystems for livelihoods and sustenance. Protecting and restoring coral reefs and coastal forests can be lower cost, sustainable alternatives for shoreline protection. However, decision-makers often lack basic information about where and under what conditions ecosystems reduce risk to coastal hazards and who would benefit. To better understand where to prioritize ecosystems for coastal protection, we assessed risk reduction provided by coral reefs, mangroves, and seagrass along the entire coast of The Bahamas, under current and future climate scenarios. Modeled results show that the population most exposed to coastal hazards would more than double with future sea-level rise and more than triple if ecosystems were lost or degraded. We also found that ecosystem-based risk reduction differs across islands due to variation in a suite of ecological, physical, and social variables. On some populated islands, like Grand Bahama and Abaco, habitats provide protection to disproportionately large numbers of people compared to the rest of the country. Risk reduction provided by ecosystems is also evident for several sparsely populated, remote coastal communities, in some cases with large elderly populations. The results from our analyses were critical for engaging policy-makers in discussions about employing natural and nature-based features for coastal resilience. After hurricanes Joaquin and Matthew hit The Bahamas in 2016 and 2017, our assessment of coastal risk reduction and the multiple benefits provided by coastal ecosystems helped pave the way for an innovative loan from the Inter-American Development Bank to the Government of The Bahamas to invest in mangrove restoration for coastal resilience. This work serves as an example for other regions and investors aiming to use assessments of ecosystem services to inform financing of natural and nature-based approaches for coastal resilience and climate adaptation.

Keywords: Coastal protection, Coastal habitats, coastal hazards, ecosystem services, social vulnerability, sea level rise, The Bahamas, natural and nature-based features

Received: 16 Mar 2019; Accepted: 23 Aug 2019.

Copyright: © 2019 Silver, Arkema, Griffin, Lashley, Lemay, Maldonado, Moultrie, Ruckelshaus, Schill, Thomas, Wyatt and Verutes. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence:
Ms. Jessica M. Silver, Stanford University, Stanford, United States,
Dr. Katie K. Arkema, Stanford University, Stanford, United States,