The time to start is now: How implementing natural infrastructure solutions can improve and protect our coasts

This article discusses the value of integrating natural coastal hazard defense solutions - beaches, dunes, reefs and mangroves for example - to manage climate impacts such as sea level rise, flooding, or generally, wave attenuation.  Natural infrastructure engineering guidelines that include performance evaluation are called for in order to begin to integrate these cost-effective methods into resilient coastal community planning.   

Shannon Cunniff of the Environmental Defense Fund argues that “(c)reating risk-reduction engineering design literacy regarding natural defenses will hasten the acceptance and expansion of natural defenses as key components for building coastal community resilience.”

Engineering guidelines are needed to bring the option of natural defenses to be analyzed along side of traditional engineered solutions. Guidelines can demonstrate how the approaches can be designed to work effectively in concert - which will improve engineering confidence in natural coastal infrastructure.

The author also suggests that leading engineering institutions should develop engineering performance metrics and monitoring protocols for all natural defenses - in order to inform future iterations of engineering guidelines.

A helpful table (Table 1) Natural defenses: Summary of risk reduction performance - rates the capacity for Structural, Existing natural, and Nature-based coastal protection strategies in Risk Reduction Performance measures for the following:

  • Reduce coastal erosion/ shoreline stabilization
  • Nuisance floods (high tides with sea level rise)
  • Short wave (<2ft.) attenuation (stabilize sediment)
  • Reduce force and height of medium waves (2-5 ft.)
  • Storm surge (low frequency extreme events)


Publication Date: 2016

Author or Affiliated User:

Related Organizations:

  • Environmental Defense Fund


Resource Category:

Resource Types:

  • Academic research paper


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