Aerial view of Hawaiian Island coastline
Kona Coast Aerial photo showing coral reef protecting homes. © C Wiggins

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The Nature Conservancy Releases Study on Insuring Hawai‘i Reefs Against Natural Disasters

A new report just released by The Nature Conservancy (TNC) assesses the feasibility of insuring Hawai‘i’s reefs from devastating storms.

On October 7, Hurricane Delta hit Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, triggering the world’s first ever reef insurance policy with an $800,000 payout to repair the hurricane-damaged reef. TNC was instrumental in developing the policy, and its new report, released December 3, looks at the viability of insuring reefs in Hawai‘i and Florida. The two-year study finds that coral reefs in Hawai‘i could be insured against damage from hurricanes, marine heat waves (bleaching), and possibly even sedimentation from stormwater runoff.

The report states that coral reefs can reduce up to 97% of wave energy hitting the shoreline worldwide, and, in Hawaiʻi:

  • provide more than $836 million in coastal protection;

  • support nearshore coral reef fisheries worth $13.4 million; and

  • support reef-related tourism contributing more than $1.2 billion to the state’s economy.

“We insure our health, our homes, and our cars – now we may be able to insure the reefs that protect our islands,” said Kim Hum, TNC’s Marine Program Director in Hawai‘i. “Our first priority is to keep our reefs healthy by managing local threats such as land-based sources of pollution and over-harvesting of ocean resources. But if our reefs are damaged by natural disasters, insurance can help fund their repair,” she said.

In a TNC-led 2020 public opinion poll, Hawaiʻi residents recognized how important coral reefs are, with more than 90% saying that reefs dying off is a “somewhat serious, serious, or very serious” problem, ranking only slightly lower than the economic impact of the coronavirus, homelessness, and lack of affordable housing.

“As our islands experience the impacts of climate change, we have to find new and innovative ways to care for them,” said Ulalia Woodside, Executive Director, The Nature Conservancy, Hawai‘i Chapter. “Reef insurance provides an opportunity for governments to partner with the tourism and finance sectors to protect one of Hawai‘i’s most valuable resources,” she said.

The Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. Guided by science, we create innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our world's toughest challenges so that nature and people can thrive together. We are tackling climate change, conserving lands, waters and oceans at an unprecedented scale, providing food and water sustainably and helping make cities more sustainable. Working in 75 countries and territories: 37 by direct conservation impact and 38 through partners, we use a collaborative approach that engages local communities, governments, the private sector, and other partners. To learn more, visit www.nature.org or follow @nature_press on Twitter.