Coral reef ecosystems protect shore from high-energy waves under climate change scenarios
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Coral reefs and other coastal ecosystems such as seagrasses and mangroves are widely recognized to provide protection against the devastating effects of strong waves associated with tsunamis and storms. The predicted warming climate brings to fore the role of these ecosystems in providing protection against stronger typhoons that can result in more devastating waves of greater amplitude. We performed a model simulation of storm generated waves on a Philippine reef, which is located along the path of tropical storms, i.e., at least 10 typhoons on the average pass through the study site yearly. A model to simulate wave propagation was developed using Simulating Waves Nearshore (SWAN) and DELFT3D-WAVE computer simulation software. Scenarios involving local monsoonal wind forcing and storm conditions were simulated. In addition, as climate change may also result to increased relative sea level, a 0.3 m and 1 m rise in sea level scenarios were also used in the wave model simulations. Results showed that the extensive reef system in the site helped dissipate wave energy that in turn reduced wave run-up on land. A significant reduction in wave energy was observed in both climate change, i.e., stronger wind and higher sea level, and non-climate change scenarios. This present study was conducted in a reef whose coral cover is in excellent condition (i.e., 50 to 80% coral cover). Estimates of coral reef growth are in the same order of magnitude as estimates of relative sea level rise based on tide gauge and satellite altimeter data, thus it is possible that the role of reefs in attenuating wave energy may be maintained if coral reef growth can keep up with the change in sea level. Nonetheless, to maintain reef growth, it is imperative to manage coral reef ecosystems sustainably and to eliminate the stressors that are within human control. Minimizing activities such as illegal and destructive blast and poison fishing methods, pollution and siltation, is crucial to minimize the impacts of high-energy waves that may increase with climate change.
KeywordsCoral Reef Wave Height Wave Energy Coral Cover Back Reef
The World Bank Office in Manila funded this study and partly by the Department of Science and Technology Climate Change Program Remote Sensing Information for Living Environments and Nationwide Tools for Sentinel Ecosystems in our Archipelagic Seas (RESILIENT SEAS). Cleto Nañola helped us in the fieldwork. Maribeth Fruto and Rizalde Ermino helped coordinate our fieldwork with the community and the local government units at the municipal and provincial levels.
This is University of the Philippines Marine Science Institute’s contribution 408.
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