Estuaries Offer Protection from Storms

Hurricane season is upon the United States, where it lasts in the Atlantic from June 1 to November 30, and in the Pacific from May 15 to November 30. These storms can be devastating, causing millions of dollars in damage and loss of life. In the face of climate change, these storms can increase in intensity and frequency.

Fortunately, estuaries can help protect the coast from some of the harmful effects of hurricanes. The wetlands surrounding an estuary act like sponges, soaking up the floodwaters of storm surge and reducing their deadly impact on nearby coastal communities. Sand dunes, such as the ones found along the Outer Banks guarding the Pamlico-Albemarle estuary, help absorb much of the energy of lashing waves, depleting some of their strength before they reach homes and businesses along the shore. Salt marshes, like those found dotting the perimeter of the Chesapeake Bay, help reduce erosion that can be caused by heavy rains accompanying a hurricane, reducing the damage done to off-shore ecological communities and their associated fishing industries.

While estuaries can be very helpful in protecting homes and infrastructure from damaging storms, they can’t do it all! It’s important that you and your family have a plan in the case of emergency. Check out FEMA’s guide on how to be ready before, during, and after a hurricane, including:

Before: Make a family communications plan. Determine where you should go and how you would get there in case of evacuation.

During: Turn your refrigerator thermostat to its coldest setting and keep its doors closed. To ensure a supply of water is available for sanitary purposes like flushing toilets, fill the bathtub with water to conserve it for later. Listen to the radio for updates on the storm or evacuation orders.

After: Stay alert for extended rainfall and subsequent flooding even after the hurricane has ended. If you have become separated from your family, call the American Red Cross line (1-800-RED-CROSS) or visit the website Text SHELTER + your ZIP code to 43362 to find the nearest shelter in your area if you cannot return home.

(Sources: Barbier, E. B., Hacker, S. D., Kennedy, C., Koch, E. W., Stier, A.C., & Silliman, B. R. (2011). The value of  estuarine and coastal ecosystem services. Ecological Monographs, 81 (2), 169-193; EPA (2009). Synthesis of Adaptation Options for Coastal Areas. Washington, DC. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Climate Ready Estuaries Program. EPA 430-F-08-024, January 2009; FEMA “Hurricanes”; NOAA “Hurricane Preparedness—Be Ready”; NOAA “National Hurricane Center”