Mangroves as a protection from storm surges in a changing climate


Adaptation to climate change includes addressing sea-level rise (SLR) and increased storm surges in many coastal areas. Mangroves can substantially reduce vulnerability of the adjacent coastal land from inundation but SLR poses a threat to the future of mangroves. This paper quantifies coastal protection services of mangroves for 42 developing countries in the current climate, and a future climate change scenario with a 1-m SLR and 10  % intensification of storms. Findings demonstrate that while SLR and increased storm intensity would increase storm surge areas, the greatest impact is from the expected loss of mangroves. Under current climate and mangrove coverage, 3.5 million people and GDP worth roughly US $400 million are at risk. In the future climate change scenario, vulnerable population and GDP at risk would increase by 103 and 233  %. The greatest risk is in East Asia, especially in Indonesia and the Philippines as well as Myanmar.

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Fig. 1

Source Figure 1 and authors estimates described in the text.

Fig. 2

Source Tables 4 and 5


  1. 1.

    Mangroves are salt-tolerant evergreen forests found along sheltered coastlines, shallow-water lagoons, estuaries, rivers or deltas in 124 tropical and subtropical countries and areas.

  2. 2.

    Data for extended periods are available for some countries. For example, coastal development in the Philippines has led to more than a 50  % loss of mangroves since 1900, mainly due to conversion for aquaculture (Primavera 2005).

  3. 3.

    For example, see Jacob et al. (2012). The most recent evidence suggests that sea-level rise could reach 1 m or more during this century (Gillet-Chaulet et al. 2012; Hansen et al. 2015; Hay et al. 2015; DeConto and Pollard 2016).

  4. 4.

    Cyclones get their power from rising moisture, which releases heat during condensation. As a result, cyclones depend on warm sea temperatures and the difference between temperatures in the ocean and the upper atmosphere. At present, an increase in sea-surface temperature is strongly evident at all latitudes and in almost all ocean areas. If global warming increases temperatures at the earth’s surface but not the upper atmosphere, it is likely to provide tropical cyclones with more power (Emanuel et al. 2008). A sea-surface temperature of 28 °C is considered an important threshold for the development of major hurricanes of categories 3, 4 and 5 (Knutson and Tuleya 2004).

  5. 5.

    58 % if the Giri et al. (2010) estimate of global mangroves is used and 53  % if the Spalding et al. (2010) estimate is used.

  6. 6.

    The Tropical cyclones surges (1975-2007) data are available for download from UNEP-PREVIEW, Genève (2009) at:

  7. 7.

    The migratory potential of mangroves also depends on a wide range of additional factors that are site-specific and highly variable; such as the continued flow of sediment and nutrients from inland stream. Such detailed information was not available on a global scale.

  8. 8.

    We agree with the anonymous reviewer of the paper that HDI, genuine savings/wealth are alternative indicators of human well-being, however these indicators are not currently available for all countries at a subnational level. Once these data are available at a subnational level, the methodology can be extended to include new indicators of human well-being in the future.

  9. 9.

    Storm surge refers to the temporary increase in the height of the sea level due to extreme meteorological conditions: low atmospheric pressure and/or strong winds (McIvor et al. 2015).

  10. 10.

    A 100 year storm surge has a 1  % chance of occurring in any given year.

  11. 11.

    We acknowledge that the assumption of 10  % increment is conservative, as a review of the regional studies of storm surges reveals predictions of storm surge height in 1-in-100 year events that are generally above 10  %. See Brecht et al. (2012) for sensitivity analysis.

  12. 12.

    We used ESRI ArcGIS 10.1 Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to extract the sum of the values of the population and GDP models that intersect the storm surge exposure areas.

  13. 13.

    Some researchers, who are skeptical about the ability of mangroves to protect against tsunamis, have noted that mangroves might be more capable of protecting against tropical storm surges (Chatenoux and Peduzzi 2007). Storm surges differ from tsunamis in having shorter wavelengths and relatively more of their energy near the water surface (McIvor et al. 2015). Theoretical models indicate that mangroves attenuate shorter waves more than longer waves (Massel et al. 1999); and field experiments confirm that relatively narrow strips of mangroves can substantially reduce the energy of wind-driven waves (Mazda et al. 2006).

  14. 14.

    For example, Primavera and Esteban (2008) found mixed results reviewing efforts in the Philippines.

  15. 15.

    For a list of mangrove resilience factors that inform site selection, see McLeod and Salm (2006, pp. 20–21).


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We would like to thank Chandra Giri (United States Geological Survey) for providing the mangrove presence data necessary to conduct the analysis. We extend a special thanks to Anna McIvor (University of Cambridge) for her insight on the analysis, particularly the formulation of the wave attenuation functions. We also thank Mark Spalding (University of Cambridge and The Nature Conservancy) for his guidance on the mangrove results, Ed Barbier (University of Wyoming) for his thoughtful review of this research, Peter Mumby (University of Queensland), and Mike Beck (The Nature Conservancy) for their insights on this analysis. We are thankful to Zahirul Huque Khan (Institute of Water Modeling, Bangladesh) for sharing the technical analysis of mangrove afforestation in Hatia island. We also thank the participants of the “State of the Knowledge of the Protective Services and Values of Mangrove and Coral Reef Ecosystems”, organized by The Nature Conservancy and the World Bank WAVES Partnership, at the University of California, Santa Cruz, United States, December 3–4, 2014. We also thank the participants of the presentation at the Association of American Geographers Annual Conference, Chicago, US, April 25, 2015.

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Correspondence to Brian Blankespoor.

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Authors’ names are in alphabetical order. The findings, interpretations, and conclusions expressed in this paper are entirely those of the authors. They do not necessarily represent the views of the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development/World Bank and its affiliated organizations, or those of the Executive Directors of the World Bank or the governments they represent.

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Blankespoor, B., Dasgupta, S. & Lange, G. Mangroves as a protection from storm surges in a changing climate. Ambio 46, 478–491 (2017).

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  • Climate change
  • Coastal protection
  • Mangroves
  • Storm surge