Funding Agency: Georgia Sea Grant

Collaborators: Yukiko Hashida, Ashby Worley, Liz Fly

Across the Eastern seaboard, experts estimate that 70% of all salt marsh has been lost, primarily due to development. The southeast U.S. supports about two-thirds of all remaining salt marsh found along the Atlantic coast – around 1 million acres. This highly productive and dynamic ecosystem is critical in protecting coastal communities from flooding and erosion and serves as essential habitat for commercially and recreationally important fish species. Though extensive along some portions of the coast, the region’s salt marshes are at risk from coastal development and rising sea level. To maintain marshes’ ecosystem services, we must communicate their value and find innovative means for protection and restoration.

Insurance represents one such promising innovative mechanism for protecting and restoring marsh, as it (1) puts a price tag on risk, (2) provides incentives for risk reduction, and (3) creates formalized payout structures. Georgia is an excellent pilot project location to develop the capacity and underlying technology to quantify the socio-economic flood risk benefits of salt marsh ecosystems. This project will explore the feasibility of innovative insurance products.

The project team will connect insurance agencies with resource management through targeted outreach and stakeholder engagement. A major focus is initiating conversations regarding marsh ecosystem benefits and risk finance mechanisms with the insurance industry. The marsh ecosystem benefits all residents in the community, and its public good should be accounted for via an innovative insurance program that goes beyond the traditional private insurance structure (like the National Flood Insurance Program).

This project will take the first step to considering whether an insurance-based mechanism could be developed for the protection and restoration of salt marshes. There are a variety of available insurance products that can be tailored to meet the specific needs of salt marshes, with initial payouts made quickly through parametric covers and assessed payouts made through indemnity cover at a later stage. The market for salt marsh insurance products will likely vary based on the category of protected assets. In locations of private assets, salt marsh insurance could target residential or commercial customers. Salt marshes may protect critical public infrastructure in other regions, making a salt marsh insurance policy targeting public entities a feasible alternative.

This two-year project will explore these innovative ideas by developing a preliminary risk reduction model for the Georgia coast and discussing potential opportunities with key stakeholders.

This project is supported by the Georgia Sea Grant College Program.

Contact Information:
Dr. Matt Bilskie, [storm surge and coastal flooding]
Dr. Yukiko Yashida, [natural resource economics]
Ashby Worley, [stakeholder engagement]