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Title: Quantifying the fragility of coral reefs to hurricane impacts: a case study of the Florida Keys and Puerto Rico

Ecosystems like coral reefs mitigate rising coastal flood risks, but investments into their conservation remain low relative to the investments into engineered risk-mitigation structures. One reason is that quantifying the risk-reduction benefits of coral reefs requires an estimate of their fragility to severe stresses. Engineered structures typically have associated fragility functions which predict the probability of exceeding a damage state with the increasing loading intensity imposed by a stressor, like a hurricane. Here, we propose a preliminary framework for capturing the fragility of coral reefs towards hurricanes in an analogous way to that of an engineered structure. We base our framework on Disturbance Response Monitoring data collected in the Florida Keys and Puerto Rico following hurricanes Irma and Maria. We first establish a qualitatively consistent correlation between hurricane impacts and coral mortality rates using two surveys of coral health. We focus specifically on stony coral mortality as a metric for reef damage, simplifying the effect of coral morphology into a single quantitative index at the site scale. To quantify the loading intensity of a hurricane, we propose a Hurricane Wind Exposure Time that captures spatial variations in the exposure of different coral reef sites to hurricane force winds. We ultimately derive a simple empirical fragility function for the Florida Keys and Puerto Rico to support side-by-side comparisons of the cost-effectiveness of a coral reef and engineered solutions to flood risk reduction in these regions.

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Author(s) / Creator(s):
; ; ; ; ; ; ;
Publisher / Repository:
IOP Publishing
Date Published:
Journal Name:
Environmental Research Letters
Page Range / eLocation ID:
Article No. 024034
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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