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Coastal Solutions

The shorelines along the Atlantic Ocean and Chesapeake Bay are highly vulnerable to climate change. Natural solutions help to protect coastal habitats and communities from rising seas and the more frequent and intense storms associated with climate change.

Maryland boasts over 7,000 miles of shoreline, making the state one of the most susceptible to erosion and flooding caused by storms, tides and rising seas. Fortunately, natural habitats such as tidal marshes and coastal forests can reduce these risks by dampening waves, stabilizing soils and absorbing water.

A key challenge has been understanding precisely where these habitats offer the greatest protection. Now, following a year-long scientific analysis, The Nature Conservancy and Maryland Department of Natural Resources have completed a statewide Coastal Resiliency Assessment, adding a human dimension to preservation and restoration decisions.

In deciding where to invest your public funding for conservation, the state now has a much more complete picture of where to achieve the best outcomes for nature and people. Figuring out how to add people to these calculations was the most exciting development for Michelle Canick, who spearheaded the Conservancy’s involvement. “We looked at proximity to neighborhoods, population data and social factors that might affect how well certain communities are equipped to handle coastal hazards,” Michelle says.

By shining light on habitats that help shield communities, the new assessment enables state conservation planners to integrate risk-reduction benefits into their decisions. State agencies already rank potential conservation sites by ecological importance, along with benefits like clean water and recreation. Maryland’s coastal atlas offers additional insight from a previous analysis into future habitat conditions — areas expected to succumb to sea-level rise, for example, or marshes likely to migrate inland.

Joe Fehrer, who oversees our coastal conservation programs on the lower Eastern Shore, believes this information could have valuable applications for local planning officials. “Communities can use this knowledge to expand their open space and earn federal credits that drive down flood insurance costs,” Joe says. “Community leaders can feel more secure that protecting marshes and forests will likely reduce flooding impacts to their towns.”

“I see it as enabling good stewardship,” Joe adds. It turns out that by helping nature — especially when science helps us target the right places for preservation and restoration — we can also help Maryland communities become more resilient, healthier and happier places to live.



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