PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. — The end of the hurricane season is still three weeks away, but scientists are sharing the results of a new study detailing how mangroves can help save billions of dollars during a powerful storm.
Mary Frei has a front-row view of the Intracoastal Waterway outside her home in West Palm Beach, but living on the water can often lead to flooding.
“There have been some days where you see the water up to the level of the sea wall, you see everyone’s garbage floating down the block,” said Frei, who has been living in her home on S Flagler Drive for more than 20 years.
But a new report finds mangroves provide valuable flood risk benefits and help protect coastal communities in Florida.
“Our mangroves in Florida, on an annual basis, are providing tremendous amount of protection from storm-related flooding,” said Laura Geselbracht, a senior marine scientist for The Nature Conservancy. "Embrace the mangroves, they're going to be doing you a big favor."
The Nature Conservancy, University of California Santa Cruz and Risk Management Solution are all part of the scientific study, "Valuing The Flood Risk Reduction Benefits of Florida's Mangroves," found mangroves are a strong first line of defense during storms in Florida, which prevented $1.5 billion in flood damages, and helped protect over half a million people during Hurricane Irma in 2017, reducing damages by nearly 25 percent in counties with mangroves.
“The mangroves provide a lot of friction so they slow that flooding down,” Geselbracht said.
The study only looked at storm surge reduction, but the mangroves with their thick canopy also help knock down wind energy, which can also help reduce damage to properties.
Small coastal fish prefer swimming around the mangroves, and they also attract other wildlife.
“They really help the natural community in the area as well as birds, it provides a lot of habitat for birds,” Geselbracht said.
Many mangroves have been ripped out because of development along coastal communities. Geselbracht says mangroves are easier to maintain than building another sea wall, and they are a natural defense against storms.
“That could mean the difference between your house being a total loss and your house being fixable,” she said.