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Rigorously valuing the impact of projected coral reef degradation on coastal hazard risk in Florida

September 7, 2021

The degradation of coastal habitats, particularly coral reefs, raises risks by increasing the exposure of coastal communities to flooding hazards. In the United States, the physical protective services provided by coral reefs were recently assessed, in social and economic terms, with the annual protection provided by U.S. coral reefs off the coast of the State of Florida estimated to be more than 5,600 people and $675 million (2010 U.S. dollars). Degradation of coral reef ecosystems over the past several decades and during tropical storm events has caused regional-scale erosion of the shallow seafloor that serves as a protective barrier against coastal hazards along Southeast Florida, increasing risks to coastal populations. Here we combine engineering, ecologic, geospatial, social, and economic data and tools to provide a rigorous valuation of the increased hazard faced by Florida’s reef-fronted coastal communities because of the projected degradation of its adjacent coral reefs. We followed risk-based valuation approaches to map flood zones at 10-square-meter resolution along all 430 kilometers of Florida’s reef-lined shorelines for both the current and projected future coral reef conditions. We quantified the coastal flood risk increase caused by coral reef degradation using the latest information from the U.S. Census Bureau, Federal Emergency Management Agency, and Bureau of Economic Analysis for return-interval storm events. Using the damages associated with each storm probability, we also calculated the change in annual expected damages, a measure of the annual protection lost because of projected coral reef degradation. We found that degradation of the coral reefs off Florida increases future risks significantly. In particular, we estimated the protection lost by Florida’s coral reefs from projected coral reef degradation will result in:

  • Increased flooding to more than 8.77 square kilometers (3.39 square miles) of land annually;
  • Increased flooding affecting more than 7,300 people annually;
  • Increased direct damages of more than $385.4 million to more than 1,400 buildings annually; and
  • Increased indirect damages to more $438.1 million in economic activity owing to housing and business damage annually.

Thus, the annual value of increased flood risk caused by the projected degradation of Florida’s coral reefs is more than 7,300 people and $823.6 million (2010 U.S. dollars). These data provide stakeholders and decision makers with a spatially explicit, rigorous valuation of how, where, and when degradation of Florida’s coral reefs will decrease critical coastal storm flood reduction benefits. These results help identify areas where reef management, recovery, and restoration could potentially help reduce the risk to, and increase the resiliency of, Florida’s coastal communities.