Mangroves for coastal protection: evidence from Hurricanes in Central America

This paper evaluates whether mangroves can mitigate the impact of hurricanes on economic activity. The paper assembles a new, regionwide panel data set that measures local economic activity using nightlights, potential hurricane damages using a detailed hurricane windstorm model, and mangrove protection by mapping the width of mangrove forests on the path to the coast. The results show that hurricanes have negative short-run effects on economic activity, with losses likely concentrated in coastal lowlands that are exposed to both wind and storm surge hazards. In these coastal lowlands, the estimates show that nightlights decrease by up to 24 percent in areas that are unprotected by mangroves. By comparison, the impact of the hurricanes observed in the sample is fully mitigated in areas protected by mangrove belts of one or more kilometers.