Active coral restoration in Laughing Bird Caye National Park in Belize thanks to Fragments of Hope Ltd.

The National Science Foundation has awarded a $20 million grant to a University of South Florida-led (USF) team of researchers to develop a standardized approach to the protection and replenishment of coral reef and mangrove ecosystems, which serve as a barrier in protecting our coasts.

Led by civil and environmental engineering professor Maya Trotz, the team includes USF experts in environmental engineering, anthropology and marine science, as well as collaborators from six academic institutions. They’re working to develop scalable and equitable engineering practices to enhance coastal sustainability by combining natural features, such as coral reefs and mangrove forests, with built infrastructure, such as seawalls and floodwater pumps, to promote resilience to waves, storm surges and sea-level rise — threats that can cause property damage, erosion and loss of life.

The U.S. Coral Reef Conservation Act promotes the study, management, protection and restoration of coral reefs. Similar acts in Florida apply to mangroves. Work on reef and mangrove restoration continues to grow in the U.S. and across the globe.

“Reefs and mangroves play critical roles in protecting coastal communities. By rigorously valuing their social and economic benefits, we open new opportunities to invest in these habitats and ensure their benefits to people and nature,” Trotz said. “Not only will this project address the environmental questions of our time, it will also provide advice on how ordinary people everywhere can participate in finding solutions to our coastal crisis.”

The research aims to quantify the social and ecological factors required to develop effective policy changes and advance public and private investment in disaster risk prevention and reduction.

With its low-lying topography and coral reef and mangrove habitat, the research team will focus on the Biscayne Bay region in Miami, which is one of the most highly susceptible areas to climate and weather disasters, as well as the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef Complex in Belize and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

The project is part of the National Science Foundation’s Coastlines and People Hubs for Research and Broadening Participation program. The research team includes experts from Boston University, Stanford University, the University of Miami, the University of California Santa Cruz, the University of Virgin Islands and East Carolina University.

The University of South Florida, a high-impact global research university dedicated to student success, generates an annual economic impact of more than $6 billion. Over the past 10 years, no other public university in the country has risen faster in U.S. News and World Report’s national university rankings than USF. Serving more than 50,000 students on campuses in Tampa, St. Petersburg and Sarasota-Manatee, USF is designated as a Preeminent State Research University by the Florida Board of Governors, placing it in the most elite category among the state’s 12 public universities.

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