Assessing the value of natural, nature-based features in coastal storm, flood risk reduction

Engineering With Nature® Podcast, Season 1: Episode 6

Published Sept. 28, 2020
A new podcast series tells the stories of how, over the last 10 years, a growing international community of practitioners, scientists, engineers, and researchers across many disciplines and organizations are working together to combine natural and engineering systems to solve problems and diversify infrastructure value by applying the principles and practices of Engineering With Nature®.

A new podcast series tells the stories of how, over the last 10 years, a growing international community of practitioners, scientists, engineers, and researchers across many disciplines and organizations are working together to combine natural and engineering systems to solve problems and diversify infrastructure value by applying the principles and practices of Engineering With Nature®.

Beck at work on oyster reef restoration in Mobile Bay, Alabama, with colleagues from The Nature Conservancy©.

Beck at work on oyster reef restoration in Mobile Bay, Alabama, with colleagues from The Nature Conservancy©.

Michael Beck

Michael Beck

Annual expected benefits provided by mangroves to property per 20-km coastal study unit. Adapted from Menendez et al. 2020

Annual expected benefits provided by mangroves to property per 20-km coastal study unit. Adapted from Menendez et al. 2020

The annual expected benefits provided by corals reefs for flood protection per 20-km coastal study unit in $US millions. Adapted from Beck et al. 2018.

The annual expected benefits provided by corals reefs for flood protection per 20-km coastal study unit in $US millions. Adapted from Beck et al. 2018.

VICKSBURG, Miss. – In this episode of the new Engineering With Nature® Podcast, guest Dr. Michael W. Beck, research professor, and head of the Coastal Resilience Lab, University of California at Santa Cruz, discusses Engineering With Nature (EWN) and his work examining how to create incentives for investing in nature and nature-based solutions for reducing flood and storm risk.

An ecologist by training, Beck had been working on more traditional ecological solutions related to marine protected areas until Hurricane Katrina, when he saw that there was a real need for understanding how natural habitats provide coastal resilience.

Beck is also the former lead marine scientist for The Nature Conservancy.

“After Katrina, Hurricane Sandy was a second wake-up call for our nation,” he said. “Sandy caused a huge amount of damage. Some of it we were prepared for, most of it we were not. In the end, Sandy cost taxpayers and the federal government $50 billion in recovery funding.”

That led Beck to a non-traditional collaboration between ecologists and the insurance industry ⸺ including with firms such as Guy Carpenter & Company, Lloyd’s of London, and Risk Management Solutions (RMS),⸺ to study the role of wetlands in reducing risk. The results were astonishing. In their study, “The Value of Coastal Wetlands for Flood Damage Reduction in the Northeastern USA,” Beck and his colleagues found that existing wetlands reduced the damages from Hurricane Sandy by $625 million and that salt marshes could reduce storm damages by 16% or more annually. In this podcast, Beck talks about this work and how it can help create incentives, such as reductions in insurance premiums, for investing in nature for flood risk reduction.

Beck and his colleagues have also studied the protective role of mangroves and other natural barriers in Florida. The work of one of his colleagues, Dr. Tori Tomiczek, is featured in Season I Episode #4 of the EWN Podcast. With RMS, Beck’s team estimated that mangroves provided over a billion dollars in savings during Hurricane Irma alone, and can reduce flood risk in Florida by 25% annually. Beck and his colleagues also study coral reefs, which can reduce wave energy by over 97%, including waves produced during hurricanes. Their work shows that if the topmost meter of coral reefs were lost, the costs of storms would double globally.

In the podcast, Beck also describes the value of developing research jointly with the insurance industry and talks about future risks, which are rising rapidly from climate change and coastal development. He emphasizes the importance of putting future risk into perspective in order for people to better understand how to address the risk. In a recently published study, “Designing effective incentives for living shorelines,” Beck and his colleagues found that a relatively small incentive, such as premium adjustments, could convince many landowners to invest in a more nature-based solution, such as a wetland restoration, over artificial solutions. Beck also describes how a greater proportion of government spending on recovery should be dedicated to nature-based, resilient solutions that offer not just flood risk reduction, but also other benefits such as tourism, recreation and carbon sequestration. He wants to see nature accounted for in our national economics and is dedicated to sharing his work with government and industry policy and decision makers, along with landowners and podcast listeners, to help everyone see the benefits of doing so.


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