The National Science Foundation has awarded a $20 million grant to a USF-lead team of researchers to develop a standardized approach to the protection and replenishment of coral reef and mangrove ecosystems, which serve as a barrier in protecting our coasts.
Led by Civil and Environmental Engineering Professor Maya Trotz, the team includes USF experts in environmental engineering, anthropology and marine science, as well as collaborators from six academic institutions. They’re working to develop scalable and equitable engineering practices to enhance coastal sustainability by combining natural features, such as coral reefs and mangrove forests, with built infrastructure, such as seawalls and floodwater pumps, to promote resilience to waves, storm surges and sea-level rise – threats that can cause property damage, erosion and loss of life.
“Every year, extreme weather events cause problems all around the world,” said Frank Muller-Karger, biological oceanographer at the USF College of Marine Science who will use satellite images and other information to document various ecosystems affected by climate change and natural hazards. “With so many people living at sea level today along the coasts of Florida and the world, we need to make these investments in finding solutions that provide protection and also food and recreation. The alternative will be a future that will cost us dearly in life and property.”
Muller-Karger, who is a lead of the Marine Life 2030 program endorsed by the UN Decade of Ocean Science, will also help develop strategies to broaden the participation of underrepresented minorities in STEM and curriculum on decision-making and climate adaptation policy.
The U.S. Coral Reef Conservation Act promotes the study, management, protection and restoration of coral reefs. Similar acts in Florida apply to mangroves. Work on reef and mangrove restoration continues to grow in the U.S. and across the globe.
“Coral reefs and mangroves protect coastal communities, provide numerous ecosystem services and support local livelihoods. By working with communities to better understand and value these ecosystems, we will develop more equitable approaches to protecting and restoring them,” Trotz said. “Not only will this project address the environmental questions of our time, it will also provide advice on how ordinary people everywhere can participate in finding solutions to our coastal crisis.”
The research aims to quantify the social and ecological factors required to develop effective policy changes and advance public and private investment in disaster risk prevention and reduction.
With its low-lying topography and coral reef and mangrove habitat, the research team will focus on the Biscayne Bay region in Miami, which is one of the most highly susceptible areas to climate and weather disasters, as well as the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef Complex in Belize and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
The project is part of the National Science Foundation’s Coastlines and People Hubs for Research and Broadening Participation program. The research team includes experts from Boston University, Stanford University, University of Miami, University of California Santa Cruz, University of Virgin Islands and East Carolina University.
They’re also working with the World Wildlife Fund, an international organization that works to reduce human impact on natural environments; Fragments of Hope Ltd., which has been pioneering scalable coral reef restoration in Belize; and Black in Marine Science, which seeks to broaden participation in the marine science field.