February 16, 2016

Story: Emerging Solution:Integrating the Role of Natural Habitat into Land-Use Planning Strategies

Precious coastlines around the world are losing important habitats. The compounding effects of rising sea levels, more severe storms, and growing coastal populations put pressure on the existence of important coastal habitats and the many services they provide. In California, many coastal communities are responding to these threats by building protective structures, such as coastal armoring, that may threaten the continued existence of beaches, dunes, wetlands, and other habitats. Collaborators from the Center for Ocean Solutions, the Natural Capital Project and Stanford Law School hope to clearly assess and convey the value of key habitats by creating an online map tuned to the needs of coastal managers and planners. 

Natural features, such as sand dunes, can protect human infrastructure. 

“This effort requires an interdisciplinary group that brings the ecosystem services science expertise from the Natural Capital Project, the science to policy experience from the Center for Ocean Solutions and the in-depth legal research skills from Stanford Law School,” said the Center’s Research Development Manager, Eric Hartge.  

Climate change and its major coastal impacts—rising sea levels and more damaging storms—are fast approaching. However, many communities have not yet developed long-term plans to protect their coastal assets. Built infrastructure such as coastal armoring may be convenient for short-term protection against shoreline retreat, but with time, they may also succumb to erosion and can even increase erosion rates in other parts of the coastline. If protected and provided room to migrate with rising sea levels, ecosystems can naturally provide long-term services that can help protect human infrastructure. For example, sand dunes and wetlands can be effective buffers against storms that threaten roads, homes and other critical assets. 

This work, sponsored by the Realizing Environmental Innovation Program (REIP) from the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment, will provide coastal managers with a relevant, science-based policy tool to prepare for the future of a changing climate. By co-developing an interactive, online map highlighting the role that coastal ecosystems play in reducing exposure to erosion or inundation, the interdisciplinary project team will provide a means to prioritize actions that focus on natural solutions wherever possible. 

“The online mapping viewer will make visualizing vulnerable coastal communities and identifying priority habitats for protecting those communities as easy as clicking a mouse,” said Dr. Lisa Wedding, the Center's research associate for spatial ecology and analysis.  

This project builds from existing collaborations with Sonoma, Marin, Santa Cruz, and Monterey counties to conduct coastal adaptation policy assessments. Next steps include connecting the results of the assessments to potential actions and then using this information to inform amendments to local coastal plans. At its core, the REIP grant and its projects aim to enact one of the Center for Ocean Solutions’ key goals: pairing sound science with policy-making. When science and policy collaborate, the result can be informed decisions and a safer, more resilient coastline.  

 

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