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Mark Tercek is president and CEO of The Nature Conservancy, the world’s leading conservation organization working around the world to save the lands and waters that sustain all life. The[…]

An oyster reef costs about the same amount of money – $1 million per mile – as a sea wall. So as an infrastructure investment, it’s a tie. But when you consider other factors the oyster reef wins by a mile.

Mark Tercek: People ask me about green infrastructure.  And by green infrastructure, and we sometimes call it natural capital, that's kind of our wonky term for using nature as an asset base.  And you can contrast that with gray infrastructure, man-made infrastructure.  There are so many instances now when we can compare and contrast an investment in nature, green infrastructure, versus an investment in grey infrastructure.  One example would be oyster reefs. We learned we got stimulus money from President Obama when we had the economic crisis and it was really interesting work that we did.  We showed that for $1 million we could build one mile of oyster reef in the gulf.  It happens to be that it cost about $1 million as well to build a mile of first-rate first class seawall.

Why does this matter?  Well, in the gulf there's great concerns about exposure to storms, sea level rise, erosion.  And so there's widespread agreement that the gulf states need to do something about that.  And kind of the preponderance of thinking has been governments need to invest in seawalls and similar gray infrastructure.  We now have really good data that shows alternatively you can invest in a green infrastructure, a new oyster reef.  The oyster reef performs just as well at providing protection from storms and sea level rise.  On that basis it's a tie.  The oyster reef costs about the same amount of money, $1 million per mile.  Again, it's a tie. But after that the oyster reef wins by a mile.  For example, the seawall, we know, like all man-made infrastructure, will depreciate; it will decline in value through wear and tear.  The oyster reef, if we take care of it, will more than hold its value.  It might even appreciate in value over time.

Second, the oyster reef is not just a seawall; it's an oyster reef.  It provides habitat for oysters. Oysters clean water.  Oyster shells ultimately crumble and nourish the beach.  Oysters are obviously good for aquaculture, the fishing community.  Oyster habitat is also habitat for other fish.  It's also habitat for birds and it helps promote tourism et cetera.  So it's a very concrete example, pun intended, of green infrastructure outperforming gray.

Directed/Produced by Jonathan Fowler and Dillon Fitton