Extreme weather, sea-level rise and degraded coastal ecosystems are placing people and property at greater risk of damage from coastal hazards1, 2, 3, 4, 5. The likelihood and magnitude of losses may be reduced by intact reefs and coastal vegetation1, especially when those habitats fringe vulnerable communities and infrastructure. Using five sea-level-rise scenarios, we calculate a hazard index for every 1 km2 of the United States coastline. We use this index to identify the most vulnerable people and property as indicated by being in the upper quartile of hazard for the nation’s coastline. The number of people, poor families, elderly and total value of residential property that are most exposed to hazards can be reduced by half if existing coastal habitats remain fully intact. Coastal habitats defend the greatest number of people and total property value in Florida, New York and California. Our analyses deliver the first national map of risk reduction owing to natural habitats and indicates where conservation and restoration of reefs and vegetation have the greatest potential to protect coastal communities.
At a glance
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