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Letting coral reefs die will actually cost us more than saving them

Published Jun 14th, 2018 3:06PM EDT

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Earth’s coral reefs are having a rough go of things as of late. Ocean warming — prompted by manmade climate change — is wreaking havoc on established reef systems and scientists don’t think they’ll ever be able to fully recover.

The scientific community is unified in its acknowledgement that mankind needs to do something to save coral reefs, but getting lawmakers (some of whom are quite friendly with energy lobbyists who would rather we all just forget about nature entirely) to pledge support (read: $$$) is often tough. Now, a new study led by Michael Beck of the University of California – Santa Cruz reveals that ignoring the dire situation coral reefs are in might cost the United States more than it would to save them.

The study focused on the effect of tropical storms on human buildings and infrastructure, comparing the damage of devastating hurricanes and typhoons with the damage that would have occurred if coral reefs weren’t protecting shorelines from even worse flooding. By “deleting” the coral reefs and then simulating the same storm surges, the researchers were able to demonstrate how much worse the damage would have been, and how bad it will be in the future if we allow coral reefs to die off.

The difference was dramatic to say the least. Worldwide, coral reefs prevent a stunning $4 billion in damage from floods, with the United States seeing a benefit of around $100 million every single year. Without the reefs to bolster our coastal protection against flooding, that’s another $100 million per year in damage that just our country alone would have to endure.

“Unfortunately, we are already losing the height and complexity of shallow reefs around the world, so we are likely already seeing increases in flood damages along many tropical coastlines,” Beck explained. “Our national economies are normally only valued by how much we take from nature. For the first time, we can now value what every national economy gains in flood savings by conserving its coral reefs every year.”

Recently, Australia decided to put its money where its mouth is regarding coral reef protections, pledging $379 million to the largest coral reef recovery effort ever conceived. If the United States took into account the amount of money we would save by protecting coral reefs, we’d pass that massive figure in less than half a decade. If politicians only speak in dollars and cents, it’s time for them to listen up.