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A nature-based solution to the problem of climate change


Climate change is causing sea levels to rise. Wetlands and reefs provide a natural buffer from the sea, shielding the coastline and low-lying coastal communities from the impact of waves and rising water.  However, rapid urbanisation has dramatically reduced natural defences in some countries, increasing people’s exposure to the impacts of extreme weather events.

Scientists in the UK, China and the Netherlands have come up with a novel approach to ensure natural defences can once again protect low-lying urban deltas. Using remote sensing, state-of-the-art biophysical modelling and fieldwork to study the Pearl River Delta, a particularly vulnerable area in southern China, the
team examined the resilience of different ecosystems and how much space they need to be effective.

The team have developed new models to assess the potential for re-establishment of mangrove forest on tidal flats. Using the models and knowledge developed during the project, the team have estimated the
space needed for mangrove ecosystems to sufficiently reduce storm impacts and ensure safety. The team is working with the Hailing Island National Mangrove Park to establish new mangroves and construct
oyster reefs which help to stabilise the seabed and support wetland restoration.

It is one of the first projects to actively integrate coastal ecosystems into coastal protection schemes in this area, offering an excellent opportunity to study the effectiveness and management of nature-based solutions. This will benefit coastal engineers in the UK and Netherlands, as well as China and the wider international research and coastal engineering community and the results can be applied to other countries in the region with similar coastlines, such as Indonesia and the Philippines.

"This opportunity has facilitated collaboration between China, the Netherlands and the UK, and led to a very exciting and challenging project. Working with local stakeholders and students, and exchanging knowledge and expertise, increases capacity for future work to address climate challenges."

Dr Zhan Hu, Associate Professor, School of Marine Science, Sun Yat-sen University

Applying nature-based coastal defence to the world’s largest urban area – from science to practice (ANCODE)

Project leads: Dr Judith Wolf, National Oceanography Centre, UK and Dr Zhan Hu, School of Marine Science, Sun Yat-sen University

Delivery partners: Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, part of UK Research and Innovation and the National Natural Science Foundation of China