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Coastal habitats shield people and property from sea-level rise and storms

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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.

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Figure 1: Coastal habitats reduce by approximately 50% the proportion of people and property along the US coastline that are most exposed to storms and sea-level rise.
Figure 2: Exposure of the US coastline and coastal population to sea-level rise in 2100 (A2 scenario) and storms.
Figure 3: Nature’s shield for total residential property value.
Figure 4: Nature’s shield for socially vulnerable counties.

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Change history

  • 01 August 2013

    In the version of this Letter originally published online, the second sentence of the Acknowledgements section should have read "We thank Zillow and the many individuals and institutions that provided data (see Supplementary Information for full details)". This error has now been corrected in all versions of the Letter.


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We thank the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation for financial support and for hosting the National Climate Assessment Biodiversity, Ecosystems and Ecosystem Services Technical Chapter working group. We thank Zillow and the many individuals and institutions that provided data (see Supplementary Information for full details). We also thank J. Burke, G. Gelfenbaum, R. Griffin, C. K. Kim, J. Lawler, M. Plummer, P. Ruggiero, J. Samhouri, H. Tallis, J. Toft and G. Ziv for discussions during this research. Links for downloading the coastal hazard index and data, and visualizing results are available at

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P.K., M.R., K.K.A., G.G., A.G., S.A.W. and G.V. conceived the research. G.G. and G.V. developed the coastal hazard index. K.A., G.V. and S.W. carried out analyses. K.K.A., G.G., G.V. and S.A.W. collected the data. M.L. and J.M.S. helped with data collection and analyses. K.K.A. wrote the paper with contributions from A.G., G.G, P.K., M.R., J.M.S., G.V. and S.A.W.

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Correspondence to Katie K. Arkema.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Arkema, K., Guannel, G., Verutes, G. et al. Coastal habitats shield people and property from sea-level rise and storms. Nature Clim Change 3, 913–918 (2013).

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