Study finds coastal wetlands provide enormous economic benefits to society

A new study published in AMBIO reports that U.S. coastal wetlands are extremely valuable in that they annually provide storm protection services worth $23.2 billion. The researchers compiled data on hurricane damage costs, wind speeds, and wetland areas and performed statistical analyses to calculate the value of coastal wetlands. These natural capital assets act as "horizontal levees" that absorb storm energy, thereby reducing hurricane costs...

STOCKHOLM, Sweden, July 21, 2008 -- A new study published in AMBIO reports that U.S. coastal wetlands are extremely valuable in that they annually provide storm protection services worth $23.2 billion.

The researchers compiled data on hurricane damage costs, wind speeds, and wetland areas and performed statistical analyses to calculate the value of coastal wetlands. These natural capital assets act as "horizontal levees" that absorb storm energy, thereby reducing hurricane costs.

Although the value of coastal wetlands has been estimated in numerous studies, estimates of the value of hurricane protection provided by coastal wetlands are rare. This study is particularly important because it allows researchers to predict the effects of location, area of remaining wetlands, proximity to built infrastructure, and storm probability on these protection values.

In addition, it is possible to determine the values of storm protection lost when coastal wetlands have disappeared. For example, as a result of the disappearance of coastal wetlands in Louisiana before Hurricane Katrina, additional wetlands vanished during the hurricane, and the resulting lost protection of infrastructure, crops, housing, revenues, employment, and stable markets was valued at $1.1 billion.

The maintenance and restoration of coastal wetlands is in peril. Without the protection of coastal wetlands, disasters like Hurricane Katrina will be even more costly to clean up.

To read the entire study, "The Value of Coastal Wetlands for Hurricane Protection," AMBIO, 2008, Vol. 37(4):241 -- 248, visit http://www.allenpress.com/pdf/AMBI-37-4-241.pdf

AMBIO is a nonprofit publication of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences that addresses the scientific, social, economic, and cultural factors that influence the condition of the human environment.

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