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Protecting flood-controlling mangrove forests pays for itself

Mangrove forests offer billions of dollars in flood protection to vulnerable coastlines. Photo by Needpix/CC
Mangrove forests offer billions of dollars in flood protection to vulnerable coastlines. Photo by Needpix/CC

March 10 (UPI) -- The economic costs of protecting mangrove forests along coastlines vulnerable to flooding are more than made up for by the flood protections these ecosystems provide.

In a new study, scientists produced high-resolution models to map the costs of flooding along exposed coastlines and the benefits provided by local mangrove forests. The analysis, detailed this week in the journal Scientific Reports, revealed where and how mangroves provide the most protection.

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Authors of the newly published paper also identified the best strategies -- including economic incentives, insurance and climate risk financing -- for funding mangrove conservation and restoration efforts.

"Now that we can value these flood protection benefits, it opens all kinds of new opportunities to fund mangrove conservation and restoration with savings for insurance premiums, storm rebuilding, climate adaptation, and community development," study co-author Michael Beck, research professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz's Institute of Marine Sciences, said in a news release.

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Studies suggest the effects of climate change, including sea level rise and increasing global temperatures, are likely to yield bigger, more intense ocean storms. The latest research showed that without mangroves, flood damages would climb by $65 billion per year, and 15 million more people would be impacted by coastal floods.

In Florida, mangroves were once found along most of state's coastline, but many have been filled in and turned into housing developments. The trend is similar elsewhere, but as more research details the ecological services provided by mangroves, efforts are being made to protect them.

In the Philippines, Vietnam and Guyana, more than 250,000 acres have been restored. Scientists hope these efforts will inspire similar restoration projects in Florida and along other degraded coastlines.

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"Mangroves are resilient and can grow like weeds, even around cities, if we give them half a chance," Beck said.

The new study identified several specific 12-mile stretches of mangrove forest that provide especially lucrative flood protection services. Some stretches near cities save communities as much as $250 million a year.

Authors of the new study hope their findings will motivate insurance companies, the World Bank and conservation groups to develop plans for risk reduction and conservation along the most important stretches of mangrove-lined coasts.

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