Georgia coastal salt marsh insurance? Environmentalists weigh in – Reporter Newspapers & Atlanta Intown

Cars. Animals. House. Health. There are many things in life that insurance can cover (including life itself). But what about nature – specifically, salt marshes?

Overlooking southeast Georgia at the Cumberland Island National Seashore, home to more than 9,000 acres of salt marsh. Conservationists are investigating whether insurance can help save valuable natural resources. (Courtesy: National Park Service)

Between their ability to protect against flood damage, reduce erosion and water filtration, the fragile ecosystems of rivers and wetlands – the hallmark of Georgia’s coastline – provide many services to people.

“If we can quantify this, that’s when we can start to look for new ways to help protect and restore the sediment – one of which could be insurance,” said Liz Fly, conservationist at The Nature Conservancy.

A non-profit organization is collaborating with the University of Georgia on a new study to calculate the cost of salt marshes and assess whether insurance can protect these protected areas – which can use their protection: according to The Nature Conservancy, experts estimate that 70% of salt marshes have already been lost, mainly due to development.

What will happen to the future of sea level rise due to climate change, and the research has been very fast.

“When we look at this project, how does it affect our coastal wetlands continuing to play an important role in mitigating risks during hurricanes as a response to climate change?” said Ashby Worley, who leads coastal climate change efforts at The Nature Conservancy.

Environmental insurance may sound like a new concept, but it has been used in recent years coral reefs along the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico.

Like salt marshes, reefs break strong currents. But, Fly said, “Salt marshes are not the same as coral reefs, in terms of losing and attaching a piece of reef to damaged reefs after a storm.”

Therefore, salt marsh insurance can strengthen the existing ecosystem “in a smarter way than reactively,” said Matt Bilskie, an engineering professor at the University of Georgia who is involved in the research.

It would also help fund the creation of new, desalinated wetlands, Bilskie said. We need to know where it should be placed for maximum benefit, and what plants should be planted there, [to] make sure it won’t last a few years or 10 years or something – make sure it has a long life. “

Of course, it all comes down to making financial sense.

“Insurance companies – their interests have to be served,” said Yukiko Hashida, an economist at the University of Georgia who worked on the study. “They have stakeholders and stakeholders. I’m interested in what they need, what they get out of it.”

It will take some time to determine whether the salt marshes will be a threat to the insurance industry, as the study is expected to last two years. But there may be options outside of the private sector.

For example, in the case of Mexican limestone, the insurance is managed by many people. And unlike your regular insurance – which only pays out if something is seriously damaged – it uses what’s called parametric insurance; when certain thresholds are met – in this case the wind speed exceeds 100 knots – the payment starts.

“We don’t know for sure what this insurance will look like, so that’s part of the research,” Hashida said.

If the insurance seems to be suitable, the researchers hope to use their findings throughout the country. But it all starts with Georgia, home to nearly a third of all salt marshes on the East Coast, according to UGA.

“We have a lot to learn,” Worley said. “We have a system that is developed, depending on the situation [The Nature Conservancy] he has been involved in Florida and mangrove systems and Latin America with coral reefs. So, could Georgia’s salt marshes do the same for insurance? We’ll see.”

This story comes to Reporter Newspapers / Atlanta Intown through a reporting partnership with GPB News, a nonprofit newsroom based in Georgia.