Press Room

Audubon Calls for Natural Coastal Resilience, Reports on Lessons from Florence

Thirty-day hurricane damage assessment highlights need for strengthening natural infrastructure for birds and people.

WASHINGTON – “We know that what protects the habitat of birds and wildlife also protects people, jobs and property. Every devastating storm shows us that water always finds a way over or around concrete barriers, and Florence is no different,” said Karen Hyun, vice president for coastal conservation at the National Audubon Society. “It’s time to invest in fortifying our first line of defense – natural infrastructure. Natural features such as marshes, barrier islands and oyster reefs minimize flood and storm damage, buffer communities, increase public safety and save taxpayer dollars.”

One month ago, Florence battered North and South Carolina causing an estimated $38-50 billion in damages, displacing millions and adding urgency to the debate over how to effectively protect coastal habitats and communities from the short and long-term impacts of increasingly-destructive hurricanes.

The National Audubon Society’s 30-days out damage assessment report, “Lessons from Hurricane Florence: Tools to Protect Birds and People,” was released today.  

Audubon staff assessed first-hand Florence’s impact on key sites lining the Carolinas, including marsh and barrier island areas like Currituck Sound and Lea-Hutaff Island on the North Carolina coast. Audubon’s Donal C. O’Brien, Jr. Sanctuary at Pine Island, on the northern edge of Florence’s path, endured days of flooding but sustained only minor damages; the rich, productive marshes of the Currituck Sound acted as a natural sponge, buffering the uplands, and breaking wave energy to reduce storm surge and flooding.

Lea-Hutaff Island – a few miles north of Wilmington – experienced the full force of Hurricane Florence: winds of 100 mph or more, raging surf, storm surge of more than 8 feet, and more than 20 inches of rain. While 90% of this undeveloped, unmodified barrier island overwashed with storm surge, it absorbed the energy from the wind and water to buffer the mainland from the most harmful effects of the storm. This overwash and erosion actually revitalize the barrier island to provide habitat for birds like terns and skimmers.

“Congress just passed a bill with $1.68 million for Hurricane Florence relief and pre-disaster mitigation as well as a bill that elevates natural infrastructure for Army Corps water projects,” said Andrew Hutson, executive director of Audubon North Carolina. “Both are more welcome evidence that state and federal policymakers understand the value – the economic as well as environmental – of natural infrastructure to reduce the force of sea level rise and record-breaking storms.”  

The National Audubon Society protects birds and the places they need, today and tomorrow. Audubon works throughout the Americas using, science, advocacy, education and on-the-ground conservation. State programs, nature centers, chapters, and partners give Audubon an unparalleled wingspan that reaches millions of people each year to inform, inspire, and unite diverse communities in conservation action. A nonprofit conservation organization since 1905, Audubon believes in a world in which people and wildlife thrive. Learn more how to help at www.audubon.org and follow us on Twitter and Instagram at @audubonsociety.

Media Contact: Chandler Lennon, clennon@audubon.org, (212) 979-3063

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