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.