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Save the Coasts, Save Ourselves
Emily Gertz, 17 Aug 05

An international research team has taken a look at the aftermath of the Indian Ocean tsunami, as well as the past 20 years of severe storms in the Caribbean, and reached a conclusion that won't suprise WorldChanging readers: Healthy coastal ecosystems are vital to protecting the world's growing coastal population from disasters.

This group's report echos the study I noted here back in June, on how well healthy mangrove forests and coral reefs insulated the Indian Ocean coast from the Christmas tsunami. Where the reefs and mangroves were weakened by pressures such as coastal development, they were less effective buffers.

In the Caribbean,

...the Cayman Islands have adapted to major hurricanes. The government took positive action and educated communities following two major hurricanes in 1988 and 1998 and were much more able to adapt, cope and recover from Hurricane Ivan in 2004.

Traditional farming systems which integrated coffee with maize in Honduras were much better at recovering from Hurricane Mitch in 1998 than farming systems which solely grew coffee.

Over one fifth of the world's people now live within about 62 miles (100 kilometers) of the coast. If current trends continue, this is likely to rise to 50 percent in the next 25 years. And as if cyclones, hurricanes, tsunamis and floods weren't already sufficiently violent, climate instability is likely to make (to be making) them even more intense and destructive. Hurricane Mitch, the most devastating hurricane in the Western Hemisphere in the past two centuries, caused upwards of 20 thousand deaths, and several billions of dollars in damages.

With the economic studies and the case studies on the side of healthy coastal ecosystems -- and the human suffering and losses so terrible -- it would clearly be worldchanging to integrate ecological preservation and restoration into how we develop along the world's coasts -- before the next disaster.

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