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Nature’s Most Overlooked Benefit: Reefs Breaking Waves

So, What’s the Answer?

A significant part of the solution is going to have to be revitalizing and rebuilding reefs. Those tasks will be challenging, but we do have the knowledge to implement them ó specifically, how to better manage reefs to reduce sedimentation, pollution and overfishing so that the reefs can grow. We will also need to be more proactive in reef restoration to spur that growth. Increasing ocean temperatures and acidification will add to the challenge and (some would say) make the endeavor hopeless; I think these predictions are overly dire and do not account for resilience or evolution.

Yes, these approaches might seem expensive. But compare their costs against the cost of all of the individual “grey” infrastructure projects such as those being erected on Petit Martinique. And remember that new climate adaptation funds are already starting to flow in the billions of dollars; these small island developing states are primary recipients of those funds, and right now the gray engineers and businesses are selling just one approach.

The recognition that wave attenuation is a globally critical ecosystem service will challenge conservation’s priorities as well. These fringing reefs are rarely the most scenic, beautiful, remote or diverse coral ecosystems. Indeed, it’s that they are directly in front of villages, towns and cities that makes their revitalization such a high priority. We will also likely have to get comfortable with added hardened structures like reef blocks, as they provide substrate for oysters and corals; add quickly to some of the attenuation benefits; and include the industries and engineers who would otherwise promote only sea walls.

This is not exactly the work I signed up for some years back when I became a marine conservationist, but personally I am excited to be part of work that jointly meets conservation and hazard mitigation goals; that’s fulfilling to me.

Mike Beck is a lead scientist with The Nature Conservancy’s Global Marine Team and a research associate at the University of California-Santa Cruz.

(Image: Windward Cemetery, Grenada. Source: Scott Schill.)

Further Reading:
M. Field, A. Ogston, and C. Storlazzi. 2011. Rising sea level may cause decline of fringing coral reefs. EOS 92:273-274.
M. Johnson et al. 2011. Caribbean Acropora restoration guide. Best practices for propagation and population enhancement. Arlington, VA: The Nature Conservancy.

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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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