Cutting the costs of coastal protection by integrating vegetation in flood defences

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Exposure to coastal flooding is increasing due to growing population and economic activity. These developments go hand-in-hand with a loss and deterioration of ecosystems. Ironically, these ecosystems can play a buffering role in reducing flood hazard. The ability of ecosystems to contribute to reducing coastal flooding has been emphasized in multiple studies. However, the role of ecosystems in hybrid coastal protection (i.e. a combination of ecosystems and levees) has been poorly quantified at a global scale. Here, we evaluate the use of coastal vegetation, mangroves, and marshes fronting levees to reduce global coastal protection costs, by accounting for wave-vegetation interaction.The research is carried out by combining earth observation data and hydrodynamic modelling. We show that incooperating vegetation in hybrid coastal protection results in more sustainable and financially attractive coastal protection strategies. If vegetated foreshore levee systems were established along populated coastlines susceptible to flooding, the required levee crest height could be considerably reduced. This would result in a reduction of 320 (range: 107-961) billion USD2005 Power Purchasing Parity (PPP) in investments, of which 67.5 (range: 22.5- 202) billion USD2005 PPP in urban areas for a 1 in 100-year flood protection level.