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MIAMI (January 5, 2018) - In the weeks since Hurricane Irma, Audubon has been surveying and understanding the hardest-hit areas of Florida. Audubon biologists report that natural coastal and wetland ecosystems proved to be Florida's strongest defense against flooding. They mitigated storm surges and limited erosion that occurs when powerful tropical storms come ashore.
"The science provides a clear message and lesson for Florida: natural habitat and green infrastructure provided the best protections against the negative impacts of Hurricane Irma," said Julie Wraithmell, interim executive director of Audubon Florida. "As state and federal lawmakers consider Irma recovery funding, Audubon's recommendations provide top priorities to turn recovery efforts into projects that make Florida more resilient."
Audubon's assessment includes examples of how some of these critical natural systems should be restored and advocates for natural infrastructure to provide long-term resilience. Impacts to the built environment from Hurricane Irma were dire—we need new tactics to meet these challenges that also benefit natural systems, rather than the same coastal hardening that fails time and again.
Audubon established the following priorities for recovery from Hurricane Irma:
- Restore critical waterbird nesting islands and beaches to support bird habitat and protect communities;
- Restore or establish coastal barrier islands to protect communities from future storm surges and establish critical wildlife habitat;
- Restore shorelines and habitats suffering from storm-related erosion, using natural infrastructure techniques such as living shorelines and native plant restoration;
- Establish a voluntary buy-out program that reconnects floodplains to river systems, addresses future headwater threats, and saves taxpayer funds;
- Replace infrastructure important for erosion control, management activities, and nesting;
- Enhance stewardship capacity on islands and beaches to protect nesting habitat;
- Rapidly assess effects from the storm on the upcoming avian breeding season; and
- Using science, engineering, and stakeholder processes, work with communities to design a future more resilient to storms and storm surge while also enhancing wildlife habitat.
Recovery efforts must focus on near- and long-term solutions that will restore critical coastal habitats impacted by the storm and make Florida resilient to the increasing intensity and frequency of extreme weather. For more details on Florida's priority projects, read the full report