Michael Beck is a research professor at the Institute of Marine Sciences of the University of California at Santa Cruz.
Coastal development and climate change are major threats to marine ecosystems. These impacts also increase the vulnerability of people and property to coastal hazards, including storm surge and sea level rise. Increasingly, climate adaptation funds are allocated for development of “gray” infrastructure, such as seawalls and jetties, to mitigate these effects. Unfortunately, these structures can harm coastal systems by direct destruction and indirect effects such as erosion and “coastal squeeze,” which occurs when a coastal habitat is trapped between a fixed landward boundary, such as a sea wall, and rising sea levels, and is therefore unable to adapt and expand appropriately.
Beck’s fellowship project aimed to increase the links between disaster risk reduction, climate adaptation, and environmental restoration. He sought to redirect climate-adaptation strategies and funding to support the restoration of wetlands and reefs (e.g. “green” infrastructure) to help reduce socioeconomic vulnerability to coastal hazards. Beck encouraged climate-resilient development planning and habitat restoration by presenting ecosystems as viable options for climate adaptation and hazard mitigation with comparative advantages over gray infrastructure solutions.
Since the conclusion of his fellowship, he has continued to work to better integrate social, environmental, and economic risk assessments into interactive and accessible tools for decision-makers. His research is helping ensure that funding for mitigating impacts of hazards, such as storm surge, sea level rise, and climate adaptation, can support the restoration of coastal ecosystems. His work is based on the premise that development and conservation can be compatible and that the survival, livelihoods, and cultural identities of many coastal communities depend on the integrity of marine ecosystems.