Tropical Biogeomorphic Seagrass Landscapes for Coastal Protection: Persistence and Wave Attenuation During Major Storms Events
The intensity of major storm events generated within the Atlantic Basin is projected to rise with the warming of the oceans, which is likely to exacerbate coastal erosion. Nature-based flood defence has been proposed as a sustainable and effective solution to protect coastlines. However, the ability of natural ecosystems to withstand major storms like tropical hurricanes has yet to be thoroughly tested. Seagrass meadows both stabilise sediment and attenuate waves, providing effective coastal protection services for sandy beaches. To examine the tolerance of Caribbean seagrass meadows to extreme storm events, and to investigate the extent of protection they deliver to beaches, we employed a combination of field surveys, biomechanical measurements and wave modelling simulations. Field surveys of seagrass meadows before and after a direct hit by the category 5 Hurricane Irma documented that established seagrass meadows of Thalassia testudinum remained unaltered after the extreme storm event. The flexible leaves and thalli of seagrass and calcifying macroalgae inhabiting the meadows were shown to sustain the wave forces that they are likely to experience during hurricanes. In addition, the seagrass canopy and the complex biogeomorphic landscape built by the seagrass meadows combine to significantly dissipate extreme wave forces, ensuring that erosion is minimised within sandy beach foreshores. The persistence of the Caribbean seagrass meadows and their coastal protection services during extreme storm events ensures that a stable coastal ecosystem and beach foreshore is maintained in tropical regions.