Coastal Resilience - Coastal Defense App

Coastal Defense is an application for examining how coastal habitats such as oyster reefs, coral reefs, tidal marshes, mangroves, beach dunes, and seagrass help protect coastal areas by reducing wave energy hitting the shore. The Coastal Defense “app” is a module of the Coastal Resilience network and tool platform, developed in part by The Nature Conservancy. The app identifies the coastal protection value of existing reef and wetland habitats and allows users to design restoration solutions. The Coastal Defense app has been deployed in Puget Sound, Washington (tidal marshes), Mobile Bay, Alabama (oyster beds), and in Southeast Florida (coral reefs, mangroves, and underwater artificial structures) and is actively being used to make on-the-ground adaptation, conservation, and restoration decisions.

The Coastal Defense app helps to:

  1. identify areas that may be at risk of coastal erosion and inundation from wave action and storm surge;
  2. examine interactively the role of coastal habitats in attenuating wave height and energy; and
  3. determine appropriate adaptation strategies that incorporate green (habitats) and grey (sea-walls and other man-made structures) infrastructure trade-offs. 

The Coastal Defense app uses standard engineering techniques to help users estimate how and where to restore or conserve critical habitat to reduce wave impacts and increase the resilience of the coastal community. The tool allows users to explore the wave-breaking power of existing coral reefs and mangroves and how this may change as a result of sea level rise, habitat restoration and habitat creation. Users have control of environmental variables like wave type, storm strength, tidal and sea level heights. They may select where and how to improve reef coral coverage and width of mangrove wetlands. Then the app calculates changes in wave height and wave energy and provides a simple graphic and narrative description of how much better, or worse, things may be under the modeled conditions compared to current conditions.  

The Nature Conservancy and various partners, including the Natural Capital Project, are collaborating on innovative models and decision support tools such as the Coastal Defense app to allow planners and managers to evaluate how coastal habitats can protect shorelines from erosion, reduce the risks of coastal hazards to people and nature, and stimulate fisheries economies. The Center for Integrated Spatial Research (CISR) at the University of California, Santa Cruz, serves as principal software developer of the “enterprise” level Coastal Defense app. The University of Southern Mississippi (USM) designed the Gulf of Mexico Coastal Defense app focused on oyster reefs and wave attenuation given specific restoration design criteria. The U.S. Geological Survey has collaborated on the coastal protection model and initial concepts behind the Coastal Defense app. They developed the first app in Puget Sound on tidal marshes that examines its wave attenuation benefits in relation to levee structures in Skagit Bay.


Publication Date: 2014

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  • Best practice
  • Modeling tool


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