National Geographic
Menu

Restoration Week: Celebrating Science in Action and the Value of Ocean Habitat

Outplanted staghorn (Acropora cervicornis) coral after one year of growth. Photo Credit: Kemit Amon- Lewis/TNC
Outplanted staghorn (Acropora cervicornis) coral after one year of growth. This is part of The Nature Conservancy’s USVI coral restoration program Photo Credit: Kemit Amon- Lewis/TNC

Rob Brumbaugh, senior marine scientist, The Nature Conservancy

June 1st marks the opening of the Atlantic hurricane season and as a resident of the Florida Keys I know to take every storm seriously and prepare accordingly. Recently, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predicted a “near-normal or below-normal 2014 Atlantic hurricane season,” and while I hope they’re right, my family and I will take all necessary precautions to be on the safe side.

We have a checklist of actions we take to stay safe and minimize the risks to our personal property when a storm is approaching. We remove our boat from the water and secure it on high ground, we close our storm shutters, turn off our water and pack up anything irreplaceable so it’s ready to be taken with us if an evacuation is recommended.

For coastal communities, comprehensive and longer term planning is needed, and increasingly communities are leveraging the valuable services that nature provides. Natural barriers such as oyster reefs, coral reefs and other habitat can act as a first line of defense against storms and reduce risks to flooding. While no barrier – natural or man-made – can stop the full force of every storm, healthy coastal habitat can help absorb wind-driven waves, and reduce erosion and flooding, often at a fraction of the cost of relying solely on man-made infrastructure.

Healthy coastal habitats also provide other tangible benefits that support local economies on a daily basis. For fishermen and seafood fans, seagrass meadows are fish factories – the nursery grounds for many species of fish for industry, sport and table. Snorkeling and diving enthusiasts view coral reefs, kelp forests as some of nature’s most amazing destinations, and their interest generates billions in tourist dollars. When combined with salt-marshes, mangroves, and many other habitat types, the ocean provides countless valuable services to society.

Mapping Ocean Wealth

The Nature Conservancy’s goal is to describe—in quantitative terms—the benefits that ocean habitats provide today, so we make smarter investments and decisions affecting what the ocean will do for us tomorrow.

Recently, our scientists have contributed to studies showing specifically how coastal habitats contribute to local economies and reduce risk from storms and rising seas.  For example, a recent study suggests that in some bays, a single acre of seagrass can produce $80,000 worth of fish annually supporting local economies. Another Conservancy-led study has found that on average, coral reefs can reduce a full 97 percent of wave energy reducing risk to coastal communities.

Working with the Global Partnership for Oceans, scientists, Universities and others we are translating ecosystem science like this into the economic and engineering language that communities, engineers and investors need for coastal planning decisions.

One of three methods being used to restore three acres of oyster reefs along the shores of Mobile Bay. Photo credit: Beth Maynor Young
One of three methods being used to restore three acres of oyster reefs along the shores of Mobile Bay. Photo credit: Beth Maynor Young

Restoration Week

As we look forward to World Oceans Day on June 8th, we are celebrating ocean habitat science in action. From coral reefs in Hawaii, to salmon habitat in Washington, from seagrass meadows at the Virginia Coast Reserve to mangroves in Grenada, we have shown that restoration works – for people and for nature.

We are working with diverse partners to put science into action in the water at over 160 restoration sites around the globe – 148 of them conducted in partnership with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in U.S. waters. We’ve captured highlights of this ten-year plus partnership with NOAA in the report: Restoration Works.

Communities and families like mine depend on nature as part of our coastal defenses, and as provider of food, jobs and other services. But, despite its incredible resilience, nature also depends on us. With our help, nature can return to greater health and productivity for us all.