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The Benefits of Coral Reefs

What benefits do coral reefs provide humans? What about benefits to other species?

Flood Protection

One important service that coral reefs provide tropical, coastal areas is to act as a barrier to wave energy. Reefs act as a break point for waves which can reduce coastal erosion and saltwater intrusion. A recent study suggests that healthy reefs are more effective than dead reefs in reducing wave energy. Healthy reefs, with complex structure from branching corals, offer a rougher surface than a dead reef, which is often flatter and smoother. [1] Given the consequences of Acidification and increased Bleaching events due to climate change, coastal areas need more effective Management strategies.

The USGS recently released a report that assessed storm damage to reefs from Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria in Florida and Puerto Rico, and then used that assessment to quantify the benefits of restoring reefs that were affected by the storms [2]. Their findings included the following:

The protection lost in Florida and Puerto Rico from storm damage to coral reefs during the 2017 Hurricanes Irma and Maria could result in:

  • Increased flooding affecting >4,300 people annually
  • Increased direct damages of >$57.2 million to >1,800 buildings annually
  • Increased indirect damages to >$124.3 million in economic activity due to housing and business damage annually

The protection gained in Florida and Puerto Rico from potential coral reef restoration could result in:

  • Avoided flooding affecting >3,100 people annually
  • Avoided direct damages of >$124.2 million to >890 buildings annually
  • Avoided indirect damages to >$148.7 million in economic activity due to housing and business damage annually


  1. Quataert, E., C. Storlazzi, A. van Rooijen, O. Cheriton, and A. van Dongeren (2015), The influence of coral reefs and climate change on wave-driven flooding of tropical coastlines, Geophys. Res. Lett., 42, 6407–6415, doi:10.1002/2015GL064861.
  2. Storlazzi, C.D., Reguero, B.G., Viehman, T.S., Cumming, K.A., Cole, A.D., Shope, J.A., Groves, S.H., Gaido L., C., Nickel, B.A., and Beck, M.W., 2021, Rigorously valuing the impact of Hurricanes Irma and Maria on coastal hazard risks in Florida and Puerto Rico: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2021–1056, 29 p.,
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