As this new BBC article points out, it appears that the loss of mangroves around cities in Myanmar made the impact of the cyclone much worse, resulting in higher casualties and greater destruction. Scientific evidence compiled after the 2004 Asian tsunami showed that areas with more intact coastal ecosystems suffered less destruction, showing the upside of investing in the preservation of coastal swamps and forests, especially in disaster-prone areas.

These developments highlight the urgent need to continue to demonstrate and make clear to policymakers the tremendous value these coastal environmental services provide. Of course, coastal ecosystems are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the full range of environmental services that forests (both tropical and temperate), wetlands, coral reefs, and prairies provide.

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Identifying these values and estimating their magnitude is the first step in making sure that they are not ignored when development decisions are made, or when assessing the value of restoring systems that have been degraded.

This is one area where the combination of economics and ecological science can demonstrate why conservation not only pays but saves lives.

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.