Three Things to Know About Insuring Mangrove Forests
New research to protect a key coastal habitat, and why it matters
Worldwide, mangrove forests are allies of coastal communities both human and wild, yet they are among the most threatened ecosystems globally, too often destroyed to make way for urban development or aquaculture. In fact, scientists estimate that nearly 20 percent of global mangrove forest cover was lost between 1980 and 2005.
But new research shows that an insurance product could fund the protection and restoration of mangroves if damaged. With technical insurance expertise from AXA-XL, The Nature Conservancy (TNC) and the University of Santa Cruz have made a broad assessment of the protection provided by mangroves and investigated the use of insurance to protect them. Here are three key facts about the potential of insurance policies for mangrove forests.
The protective benefits of mangroves are significantly more valuable than the costs to restore them.
Healthy mangrove systems offer tremendous protection to coastal communities against storm surge and coastal erosion; they are also critical nursery areas that help support local fisheries and overall marine biodiversity. Beyond habitat creation and coastal defense, mangrove forests store huge quantities of carbon, thereby mitigating further greenhouse gas emissions.
Losing these ecosystems and the services they provide is especially costly to the communities nearest to them. However, our report finds that post-storm mangrove restoration could be cost-effective along nearly 3,000 kilometers of coastline across 20 states, territories and countries in the Caribbean region, including the Bahamas, Belize, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Florida, Jamaica and Mexico.
Insuring mangrove forests could mean faster restoration efforts following storm damage.
Much like a homeowner buying insurance to protect their property from damage, the insurance approach outlined by our research team could help deliver funds to restore a community’s mangrove forests following storm damage. Pay-outs would likely be triggered when wind speed crossed a certain threshold, permitting funding for restoration to be in the policy holder’s bank account as soon as 10 working days after a storm. Many stakeholders could see value in such a policy, including local, state or national governments; residential homeowners; or commercial business owners.
Other “natural infrastructure” has already been insured to enable conservation efforts.
In 2019, TNC and partners developed the world’s first insurance policy on a marine ecosystem—a coral reef in Quintana Roo, Mexico. A healthy coral reef can massively reduce wave energy, reducing both the effects of storm surge and daily erosion to coastlines—and that benefits the lives and livelihoods of those on shore. Various stakeholders—including the state government, local hotel owners, and the National Parks Commission—agreed on the importance of protecting the reef system and established the Coastal Zone Management Trust, which buys the insurance and is designed to collect and manage funds for maintenance and repair.
In a global first, the trust fund purchased an insurance policy to cover a stretch of the Mesoamerican Reef spread out over 160 km of its coastline. Now, when wind reaches a certain speed, the policy triggers a payout used to repair damage to the reef. Swift repair of the reef ecosystem enables it to recover more quickly, thus providing local communities with more consistent natural protection from coastal flooding and erosion, among other vital services.
Conservationists have suspected that a similar concept may also work for mangrove forests, coastal dunes, barrier beaches and salt marshes, and this new research supports that notion.