Coral reefs provide a home to so many different creatures that they’re sometimes called “rainforests of the sea.”

And near the shore, they help absorb wave energy. So as extreme storms grow more common, coral reefs help protect coastal communities from flooding and storm surge.

“Coral reefs provide critical coastal protection benefits,” says Borja Reguero of the Institute of Marine Sciences at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

In a recent study, Reguero and other researchers put a dollar figure to that flood protection. They found that coral reefs prevent more than $1.8 billion in flood damages annually to coastal communities in the U.S.

But he says development, pollution, and global warming are degrading many reefs. In some areas, reefs have vertically eroded by more than three feet in recent decades. And if more reefs are damaged, flood risks will grow. 

“If we keep losing them, we will have to find alternative measures of protection,” Reguero says.

So he says conserving these fragile ecosystems helps preserve a home for marine creatures. And it’s a cost-effective strategy for protecting property and people, too.

Reporting credit: Sarah Kennedy/ChavoBart Digital Media and Molly Matthews Multedo