Maui News

Nature Conservancy Releases Study on Insuring Hawaiʻi Reefs Against Natural Disasters

December 10, 2020, 11:11 AM HST
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Aerial of corals protecting Waimanalo homes on Oahu. Photo Courtesy: Twain Newhart/The Nature Conservancy

Hawaiʻi Island Kona Coast aerial showing coral reefs protecting resorts. Photo Courtesy: C. Wiggins/The Nature Conservancy

Brown water sedimentation after a storm on Maui. Photo Courtesy: Bill Rathfon/The Nature Conservancy

Molokini Reeftop on Maui. Photo Courtesy: Pauline Fiene/The Nature Conservancy

Reef fish on Maui. Photo Courtesy: Pauline Fiene/The Nature Conservancy

Science divers monitor coral bleaching on the Big Island. Photo Courtesy: David Slater/The Nature Conservancy

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The Nature Conservancy’s new two-year study found coral reefs in Hawai‘i could be insured against damage from hurricanes, marine heat waves (bleaching) and possibly even sedimentation from stormwater runoff.

The finding were in a new report just released by the non-profit that assessed the feasibility of insuring Hawai‘i’s reefs from devastating storms.

On Oct. 7, Hurricane Delta hit Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, triggering the world’s first ever reef insurance policy with an $800,000 payout to repair the hurricane-damaged reef. The Nature Conservancy (TNC) was instrumental in developing the policy.

The new report, released Dec. 3, states coral reefs can reduce up to 97% of wave energy hitting the shoreline worldwide. In Hawaiʻi, the reefs can:

  • provide more than $836 million in coastal protection
  • support nearshore coral reef fisheries worth $13.4 million
  • support reef-related tourism contributing more than $1.2 billion to the state’s economy

“We insure our health, our homes and our cars – now we may be able to insure the reefs that protect our islands,” said Kim Hum, TNC’s Marine Program Director in Hawai‘i. “Our first priority is to keep our reefs healthy by managing local threats such as land-based sources of pollution and over-harvesting of ocean resources. But if our reefs are damaged by natural disasters, insurance can help fund the repair.”

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In a TNC-led 2020 public opinion poll, Hawaiʻi residents recognized the important benefits of coral reefs, with more than 90% saying the die off of reefs is a “somewhat serious, serious, or very serious” problem, ranking only slightly lower than the economic impact of the coronavirus, homelessness and lack of affordable housing.

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“As our islands experience the impacts of climate change, we have to find new and innovative ways to care for them,” said Ulalia Woodside, Executive Director, The Nature Conservancy, Hawai‘i Chapter. “Reef insurance provides an opportunity for governments to partner with the tourism and finance sectors to protect one of Hawai‘i’s most valuable resources.”

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