Maryland boasts over 7,000 miles of shoreline, making the state one of the most susceptible to erosion and flooding caused by storms and rising seas. Fortunately, nature can help.
First Line of Defense
Coastal wetlands play a crucial role as a first line of defense from storm surges on the Atlantic coast of the U.S. We call these wetlands our “green suit of armor,” and we have them to thank for saving taxpayers a significant amount of money in disaster relief expenditures over the years.
According to a study led by the Conservancy, along with partners from the engineering, insurance and conservation sectors, wetlands in the northeastern U.S. prevented more than $625 million in direct property damages during Hurricane Sandy, reducing damages by an average of 22% in most of the affected states and nearly 30% in Maryland.
Not only have coastal wetlands saved taxpayers money in the past, they will save money into the future. Healthy wetlands require minimal infrastructure and management. Scientific data tells us which wetland strongholds need to be protected or restored, then nature does the heavy lifting.
In Maryland, we have an opportunity to set an example for the nation when it comes to balancing coastal adaptation and economic growth. A great way we are setting that example in Maryland is through new policies that value the best outcomes for both people and nature.
During the 2017 legislative session, we supported a successful bill that provides tax credits to land-owners who build a “living shoreline” to protect their property from erosion. Living shorelines incorporate natural features such as marsh vegetation to create or enhance habitat while controlling erosion. This policy gives private landowners, including developers, an incentive to protect and restore natural shorelines that will shield inland communities in the long-term.
We also partnered with NASA to use satellite data to better understand the extent and health of Maryland’s coastal wetlands. Conservancy GIS Project Manager Michelle Canick explained: “The NASA data will give us a better understanding of where the healthy marshes are that we want to protect and where the degraded marshes are that we might want to restore.”
Making Informed Decisions
In 2016 The Nature Conservancy and Maryland Department of Natural Resources completed a statewide Coastal Resiliency Assessment following a year-long scientific analysis. The report adds a human dimension to preservation and restoration decisions.
Figuring out how to add people to these calculations was the most exciting development for Michelle, 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 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.
- Download the report Resilient Coastal Sites for Conservation in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic US (pdf)
- Download the Maryland Coastal Resiliency Assessment factsheet (pdf)
- Take an interactive tour with the Coastal Resiliency story map
Learn more about the goals, outcomes and applications of the Maryland Coastal Resiliency Assessment (recorded Sept. 9, 2016). Listen
Download the webinar presentation. View