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Nature’s Most Overlooked Benefit: Reefs Breaking Waves

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Nature’s Most Overlooked Benefit: Reefs Breaking Waves

By Mike Beck, The Nature Conservancy

“Reefs break waves every day”: I know you’re thinking that’s an obvious statement. But there’s more to it than meets the eye. Reefs break waves — waves that would otherwise crash into and erode coasts on which hundreds of millions of people and trillions of dollars in development sit.

In fact, this wave attenuation by coral reefs is the single most obvious way nature benefits people globally — and it’s a benefit that conservation and science and policymakers need to pay a lot more attention to as climate keeps changing, coral reefs keep dying, and more and more people inhabit and build on the world’s coastlines.

How Have We Missed This?

Most coral reef science and conservation today focuses on: (i) the loss of the stunning diversity and productivity of corals and fishes, and (ii) what that loss means for the future of coral reefs and the people that rely on their fisheries. But despite the obviousness of my title, there is extraordinarily little science that focuses on the role of reefs as barriers (even on the Great Barrier Reef).

The importance of reefs as barriers really hit home for me as I gazed on the Caribbean’s Windward Isles from seat 10A on a return flight home to the States from Grenada recently. But you can make these observations right at your desk. Use Google Earth to look first at the eastern edges of the Windward Isles — look for towns and small cities, and then look for the crescent of what may at first seem like clouds ringing those communities. These are the waves breaking on the fore-reefs that protect these communities.

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8:59AM PDT on Mar 29, 2013

noted with thanks

2:16PM PST on Nov 29, 2012

Thank you

2:37PM PST on Feb 8, 2012

Good point... learned something again... thanks!

4:46AM PST on Feb 3, 2012

Sounds good to me. When do we get started?

9:39AM PST on Jan 26, 2012

Thank you for this informative article!:)

5:18AM PST on Jan 24, 2012

Coral reef is an asset and tourist attraction.

7:24PM PST on Jan 23, 2012

nice :)

1:54PM PST on Jan 22, 2012

Hi Jennifer E.
On harnessing wave energy. This is a good idea but you need even more wave energy to make it cost effective (think of the coasts of Oregon and Tasmania).

Adding height to reefs with concrete is a good idea and it becomes a very good idea if you couple it with coral transplants on top of these blocks. this way you can grow a living skin of reef on top of these blocks. We have coral nurseries being developed in several places to test this idea.

Indeed a big reef is a lot of limestone with a skin of live coral on top.

4:57PM PST on Jan 21, 2012

Thank you, Mike, for this fascinating insight into a global issue. At one point, you mention the wave energy and its destructive effect on the shores. I wonder if one of the ways two birds could be killed with one stone, is to use wave collection technology to produce power and in the process, the waves would be reduced in energy, so less destructive.

The other thing which comes to mind, is adding height to the reefs with concrete blocks and stone. I know here in Australia, groynes have been used to protect beaches, though I haven't studied them by any means, so don't know the usefulness or long term effects of them.

11:43PM PST on Jan 20, 2012

Again, we must get to work on ending the destruction of our oceans, their polluting, their acidification, their overfishing. We act as the whole Earth is dead and that there are no consequences for destroying our support system.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.

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