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

Vincent T.M. van Zelst*, Jasper T. Dijkstra, Bregje K. van Wesenbeeck, Dirk Eilander, Edward P. Morris, Hessel C. Winsemius, Philip J. Ward, Mindert B. de Vries

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


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.

Original languageEnglish
Article number6533
Pages (from-to)1-11
Number of pages11
JournalNature Communications
Issue number1
Early online date11 Nov 2021
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The research leading to these results received funding from the Aqueduct Global Flood Analyzer project, via subsidy 5000002722 from the Netherlands Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment. The latter project is convened by the World Resources Institute. This research is part of Foreshore Assessment using Space Technology (FAST, 2014–2018). A project funded by the European Union’s (EU) Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) for research, technological development and demonstration under grant agreement number 607131. FAST is developing downstream services for the European Earth Observation Programme Copernicus to support cost-effective, nature-based shoreline protection against flooding and erosion. P.J.W. received additional funding from the Dutch Research Council (NWO), in the form of a VIDI research grant 016.161.324.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021, The Author(s).


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