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The value of US coral reefs for flood risk reduction

April 15, 2021

Habitats, such as coral reefs, can mitigate increasing flood damages through coastal protection services. We provide a fine-scale, national valuation of the flood risk reduction benefits of coral habitats to people, property, economies and infrastructure. Across 3,100 km of US coastline, the top-most 1 m of coral reefs prevents the 100-yr flood from growing by 23% (113 km2), avoiding flooding to 53,800 (62%) people, US\$2.7 billion (90%) damage to buildings and US\$2.6 billion (49%) in indirect economic effects. We estimate the hazard risk reduction benefits of US coral reefs to exceed US$1.8 billion annually. Many highly developed coastlines in Florida and Hawaii receive annual benefits of over US\$10 million km–1, whereas US reefs critically reduce flooding of vulnerable populations. This quantification of spatial risk reduction can help to prioritize joint actions in flood management and environmental conservation, opening new opportunities to support reef management with hazard mitigation funding.