Sunday, 27 December 2015

Future of our coasts: The potential for natural and hybrid infrastructure to enhance the resilience of our coastal communities, economies and ecosystems

Volume 51, August 2015, Pages 137–148
  Open Access


Natural infrastructure (healthy ecosystems) provides many benefits to society.
Innovative hybrid infrastructure approaches combine natural and built features.
Natural and hybrid approaches provide important coastal risk reduction.
Now is the time to incorporate natural and hybrid approaches into coastal planning.
These approaches are key to increasing coastal resilience to climate change.


There is substantial evidence that natural infrastructure (i.e., healthy ecosystems) and combinations of natural and built infrastructure (“hybrid” approaches) enhance coastal resilience by providing important storm and coastal flooding protection, while also providing other benefits. There is growing interest in the U.S., as well as around the world, to use natural infrastructure to help coastal communities become more resilient to extreme events and reduce the risk of coastal flooding. Here we highlight strengths and weaknesses of the coastal protection benefits provided by built infrastructure, natural ecosystems, and the innovative opportunities to combine the two into hybrid approaches for coastal protection. We also examine some case studies where hybrid approaches are being implemented to improve coastal resilience as well as some of the policy challenges that can make implementation of these approaches more difficult. The case studies we examine are largely in the U.S. but also include a couple of international examples as well. Based on this analysis, we conclude that coastal communities and other decision makers need better information in order to incorporate ecosystem protection and restoration into coastal resilience planning efforts. As additional projects are developed, it is important to capitalize on every opportunity to learn more about the cost of natural and hybrid infrastructure projects, the value of the storm and erosion protection benefits provided, and the full suite of co-benefits provided by healthy coastal ecosystems. We highlight top priorities for research, investment in, and application of natural and hybrid approaches. These data are critical to facilitate adoption of these approaches in planning and decision-making at all levels to enhance the resilience of our coasts.


  • Ecosystem services;
  • Storm protection;
  • Coastal flooding;
  • Storm surge;
  • Community resilience

1. Introduction

Coastal flooding due to extreme weather events and sea level rise is of growing global concern (IPCC Working Group II, 2014), and increasing coastal resilience to these threats is a priority for many countries and a global need (Barbier, 2014). The United States is no exception. In the U.S., in 2012, there were 11 weather and climate disaster events across the United States, including Hurricane Sandy. Nationally, these disaster events cumulatively caused 377 deaths and over $110 billion in damages. This makes 2012 the second costliest year on record in the U.S., ranking only behind 2005, which incurred $160 billion in damages due in part to four devastating coastal hurricanes (National Climatic Data Center (NCDC), 2013). In the wake of these major hurricanes and in the face of increasing chronic risks such as coastal flooding due to sea level rise (Shepard et al., 2012), the resilience of U.S. coastlines has emerged as a major socioeconomic and environmental concern for the federal government. For example, community resilience is specifically called out in the President's Executive Order 13653, “Preparing the United States for the Impacts of Climate Change” (The White House, 2013). In this Executive Order resilience is defined as “the ability to anticipate, prepare for, and adapt to changing conditions and withstand, respond to, and recover rapidly from disruptions,” and building community resilience is a specific goal of the Executive Order actions. At the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), resilience fundamentally is thought to have at its core three components, or pillars – society, economy, and environment – that must all be healthy and robust for a community to be resilient (NOAA, 2010). Thus, the important role that coastal ecosystems can play in increasing coastal resilience is of growing interest.