Researchers put a dollar value on the protection coral reefs provide Hawaii shorelines ... and it’s big

Published: May. 5, 2019 at 11:12 AM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Having a nice beach with peaceful waves lapping at the shoreline is often taken for granted in Hawaii. But the reefs also protect the shoreline from larger waves and damage.

“If you were standing in Waikiki and you just have little bitty waves lapping up at your feet, but then you look offshore and you can see ten-foot waves or more breaking offshore, well, that’s the reef at work for you,” said Michael Beck, a research professor at the University of California-Santa Cruz.

Researchers have now put a value on that protection, in a just-released study from the U.S. Geological Survey, The Nature Conservancy and UC-Santa Cruz.

“In short, we found that across the U.S., reefs provide more than $1.8 billion in flood protection benefits every year to people and property,” said Beck.

Of that total, the study said reefs provided $395.3 million in protection to buildings and the economy on Oahu every year, and $377.1 million to Maui’s coastlines. Reefs provided $50.7 million in protection annually to Hawaii island coastlines, and $12.3 million to Kauai.

The study also looked at how reefs protect shorelines from 50-year storms, and how much more damage would be sustained if reefs were reduced by three feet in height.

“We’re only looking at the topmost meter of reef,” said Beck. “So if we lose just that topmost meter of reef, those are the kinds of additional flooding costs that we expect.”

The research also attempted to quantify how reefs can play a role in the recovery from hurricanes and other storms.

“Our work is also trying to put dollar values, like really rigorous dollar values, so that it can inform actions, for example, by FEMA, particularly after hurricanes, like Hurricane Lane,” said Beck.

Beck hopes that the work will result in greater value and protection for coral reefs around the country.

“By being able to quantify these benefits, then we can then help to preserve and restore those reefs.”

The study is available by clicking here.

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