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In an effort to find smart solutions for sea-level rise, storms, floods, and other climate impacts in South Florida, The Nature Conservancy announced several new partnerships and two demonstration projects in Miami-Dade County to highlight and maximize the use of nature-based infrastructure solutions such as mangroves, coral reefs, wetlands, and dunes as an important line of defense for coastal and community protection. These natural features are often cost-effective tools to absorb floodwaters, lessen wave energy, and protect coastal residents and assets from the damages caused by storms.

Miami-Dade County is one of the most economically vulnerable locations on the planet, with more than $345 billion in assets and 2.6 million people at risk due to flooding and sea-level rise. The county has already invested millions of dollars in natural and coastal area protection along with parks, trails, and other open spaces. These natural areas or natural “capital” can be leveraged for more protection for county residents and assets, and enhanced and restored for further community risk reduction.

The Nature Conservancy is advancing Miami-Dades community resilience through a number of new two-year partnerships that will further support and demonstrate how effective these efforts can be to build resilience across the region and beyond.

The Conservancy will work with RMS, one of the worlds largest catastrophe risk modeling firms, to build standards for modeling mangroves and salt marshes in RMS models, ensuring that the coastal protection value of these natural systems is reflected in risk assessment and management decisions.

Robert Muir-Wood, Ph.D., chief research officer at RMS, said, “Through RMS risk models we can quantify the way that natural ecosystems, such as coastal marshes, can reduce the cost and damage from floods to the properties they protect. In an era of rising sea levels and potentially stronger storms we will increasingly want to evaluate the role that such habitats can play in risk mitigation. RMS is delighted to support this initiative by showing how it is possible to measure the benefits to local communities.”

The Conservancy will also partner with The Global Disaster Preparedness Center (managed by the American Red Cross) to incorporate natural systems into disaster preparedness plans in two soon-to-be-identified key geographies, with a focus on technology and coastal cities ecosystems for the protection of vulnerable people.

Finally, the Conservancy is partnering with engineering firm CH2M and Miami-Dade County to prepare conceptual planning designs for two projects that contribute to flood risk reduction using natural systems or natural/engineered hybrid approaches in Miami-Dade County.

The first project, Wagner Creek Green Spaces, will involve redesign of several creek-side properties in the Health District to create a desirable open space that absorbs some of the stormwater flooding in the area. The second pilot project, in South Dade, will model the flood risk reduction and storm protection provided to the countys billion-dollar South District Wastewater Treatment Plant by the mangroves and other natural features between the plant and Biscayne Bay. Opportunities to maintain or increase protection of the plant with natural and hybrid approaches will also be modeled.

“When you learn that just 100 meters of mangroves can reduce wave height by 67 percent, you know instantly that this is not your usual feel good story about the environment this is a strong business case for nature and it often comes with the added benefits of improved water quality and fisheries protection,” said Kathy Baughman McLeod, managing director for Coastal Risk and Investment, The Nature Conservancy.

The use of natural infrastructure alone or in tandem with hybrid coastal and inland engineering techniques can be more cost effective over time than just the use of concrete seawalls and levies on their own. Nature grows larger and stronger over time, whereas seawalls and breakwaters erode and cost more due to necessary maintenance and repair. One study showed that the cost of building a breakwater versus restoring a natural reef is 20 to 1.

“Taking action is key, and understanding and using our natural capital, especially when we can measure how cost effective it can be in protecting coastlines and our infrastructure, is just plain smart business,” said Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez. “The decisions we make today about the infrastructure we put in place whether natural or manmade will have a long-lasting impact on how we live and work. We should let nature do its very best job for us.”

Information provided by The Nature Conservancy (nature.org).

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