Building Resilience to Coastal Hazards with Natural Defenses

Michael beck

Nationality American

Year of selection 2020

Institution University of California Santa Cruz

Country United States

Risk Environment


5 years

Climate change and development are drastically degrading coastal ecosystems, increasing the exposure of communities to risks that include flooding, erosion, and sea level rise. Natural habitats, such as wetlands, and coral reefs, also referred to as “green infrastructure,” can help reduce the impact of these growing risks on people, assets, and the environment.

The results that Professor Michael Beck, from the University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC), has already achieved in this groundbreaking area demonstrate the social and economic value of coral reefs, marshes and mangroves for reducing flood risks from storms across 100 countries. In the past few years, Prof. Beck has led several global collaborations, producing major reports and scientific publications that make a strong case for the role of natural habitats in providing coastal protection. His rigorous quantifications of the estimated value of their benefits from the local to the global scale, have helped solve a major problem hindering the wider use of natural defenses. They offer solid evidence of the value of investing in the conservation and restoration of these habitats and integrating them in insurance and risk management solutions. Prof. Beck was Lead Marine Scientist at The Nature Conservancy (TNC) for 20 years. Since 2019, he has been building the Coastal Resilience Lab   at UC Santa Cruz.

Over the course of the 5-year research program of the new AXA Chair in Coastal Resilience at the University of California, Santa Cruz, Professor Beck seeks to capitalize on these findings and leverage the tremendous potential of natural costal defenses to reduce risks for people and nature.  “At present, we only account for what we take from nature instead of valuing what we leave behind,” he says.

 “Incorporate Nature into Risk Industry Models and National Economies”

A key objective of the research program is to direct investments and innovation towards building greater coastal resilience naturally. How? The AXA Chair in Coastal Resilience will work with key partners such as insurers, the World Bank, TNC, and disaster risk agencies to identify where habitats can most cost effectively reduce flood risks and catalyze innovative solutions at scale. Prof. Beck will inform and engage with leaders in engineering, insurance, and economics to influence the integration of natural defenses in risk management and investment.

The 4 main objectives of the AXA Chair are to ensure that reefs and wetlands are included in (i) Industry Risk Models, (ii) National Economics, (iii) Benefit-Cost Analyses, and (iv) Investment Tools.

With the support of the AXA Research Fund, Professor Michael Beck and his team aim to create the catalyst for widespread, cost effective investments in natural defenses ultimately to build coastal resilience, naturally.

November, 2020