watson4_Yousuf TusharLightRocket via Getty Images_sundarbans Yousuf Tushar/LightRocket via Getty Images

Nature by the Numbers

Natural systems like the massive Sundarbans mangrove forest in India and Bangladesh are not just home to millions of plant and animal species that deserve protection from human encroachment. They are also crucial sources of economic output and resilience, demanding far more protection than they currently receive.

NORWICH – When Cyclone Amphan came barreling up the Bay of Bengal this past May, South Asia’s first named storm of the year appeared to pose a massive threat to the people who live on the coastal floodplains and to the animals and plants – including many endangered species – that rely on these sensitive ecosystems. But nature came to the region’s rescue.

The Sundarbans, the world’s largest mangrove forest, offered better protection than any man-made storm wall could have done. When Amphan’s 16-foot storm surge slammed into this 4,000-square-mile national park, the mangroves took the teeth out of it, just as they did with the two other supercharged cyclones, Aila and Sidr, that have made landfall in recent times.

On the other side of the world, natural storm defenses on the lower end of Manhattan have long since been paved over. Real-estate developers have even extended the island into New York Harbor with acres of landfill, neglecting to build up storm surge protections. As a result, when Hurricane Irene and Superstorm Sandy hammered the city in 2011 and 2012, respectively, lower Manhattan, including the city’s financial district, was inundated.

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