Island nations are increasingly facing threats from large storm events such as hurricanes and cyclones. Often these small island developing nations include communities with a large number of poor and vulnerable people who are more susceptible to the impacts and damage from high waves and flooding. Many of these communities are surrounded by coral reefs that provide great value and a wide range of ecosystem services while acting as a crucial first line of defense for coastal communities during hurricanes. Sitting offshore, underwater, and out of sight, these critical  and threatened  ecosystems are among the most effective means of protecting communities behind them.

In a recent report, ECU’s Dr. Nadine Heck worked with colleagues at the University of California Santa Cruz and The Nature Conservancy to quantify the benefits of coral reefs to vulnerable coastal populations in three Caribbean nations: Jamaica, Grenada, and the Dominican Republic. Heck combined data on the effects of reefs on stormwater levels with global and national datasets of population and poverty to create spatially explicit maps showing where coral reefs provide flood risk reduction to populations living in poverty. Their findings show that coral reefs reduce flood damages by $146 M every year across the three countries and protect over 200,000 people living on less than $15 per day. The study also identifies the value of coral reefs for additional ecosystem services including fisheries, tourism, and biodiversity conservation, thus reinforcing the value of coral reefs for the well-being of coastal communities for a variety of reasons. 

You can read the full report here.

Led by East Carolina University (ECU), The Coastal Studies Institute is a multi-institutional research and educational partnership of the UNC System including North Carolina State University, UNC-Chapel Hill, UNC Wilmington, and Elizabeth City State University.


ECU’s Integrated Coastal Programs (ECU ICP) is a leader in coastal and marine research, education, and engagement.   ECU ICP includes the Coastal Studies Institute, ECU’s Department of Coastal Studies, and ECU Diving and Water Safety.


The ECU Outer Banks campus is home to the Coastal Studies Institute.
Located on Roanoke Island along the banks of the second largest estuary
in the United States, this coastal campus spans 213 acres of marshes, scrub wetlands, forested wetlands, and estuarine ecosystems.




The faculty and staff at the Coastal Studies Institute come from a variety of backgrounds and disciplines, as well as departments and organizations including ECU Department of Biology, ECU Department of Coastal Studies, NC Sea Grant, the North Carolina Renewable Energy Program, and the UNC Institute for the Environment.


The CSI Board of Directors consists of professionals with strong backgrounds in coastal issues including research, development, outreach, education, and policies that affect coastal communities. The Board promotes the UNC System’s mission in helping it serve the people of North Carolina at a high level of excellence in every area of endeavor at the Coastal Studies Institute. The Board meets twice a year to discuss the projects and progress of CSI.


Contact Us

Contact Info

The Coastal Studies Institute
850 NC 345
Wanchese, NC 27981



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