Coastal News from the Field: Rethinking the Future of Coastal Management

By Ellis Kalaidjian

The year 2021 is over. As we begin 2022 and reflect on 2021, coastal hazards continue to escalate under a changing climate. This past Atlantic hurricane season was the third most active ever recorded and hosted one of the five costliest hurricanes to impact the US, for example. Coastal communities are experiencing more intense storms and planning for sea-level rise to build community resiliency (recording available on this topic from the last TCS Coastal Connections session). Needless to say, the challenges facing coastal management communities are numerous and mounting. As we approach the new year, we must ask ourselves: “How, if at all, are we adapting our coastal management institutions and approaches to meet the constantly-evolving problems we face?”. Duke University’s Dr. Michael Orbach and the University of Washington’s Dr. Marc Miller explore this prudent question in their essay, entitled How Have the U.S. Coasts Changed (and How Are They Going to Change) as Cultural and Policy Spaces? An Example from California, recently published in the Journal of Coastal Management.

This essay first explores the theoretical concepts of policy and cultural spaces that exist within the coastal zone. As the authors explain, a policy space is a space (geographical, temporal, historical) where societal actions and behaviors are structured by legislation and political activities that directly reflect the values of policymakers and their constituents. A cultural space is a space that is structured by people who are members of a culture—which is defined in terms of shared knowledge and values and “consists of what it is that people know to [coexist with one another]” (p. 4)—in a way that reflects that culture. Both spaces are dynamic; they have lifespans; they are controlled by, among other things, the environment and politics; and they influence each other in often unpredictable ways.

To illustrate these concepts and their interrelatedness, the authors examine the policy and cultural spaces of coastal California over the last 50 years. Prior to World War II, Californian coastal cultures were made up of small, financially modest populations, and existed within intimate, “cozy” landscapes. The authors describe Californian coastal life as slower-paced and “…driven by sea- and coast-dependent industries and interests such as fishing, coastal recreation and tourism, and notably…the proto-typical ‘California Lifestyle’.” (p. 6), which the authors view as being influenced by the “cool, laid-back and casual and free-wheeling” (p. 6) surf culture of the 60s. However, massive economic development and human settlement following WWII changed the cultural space to one that was “…much more dependent on leisure-tourism and other industries such as major universities, aero-space and high-tech.” (p. 6) and inhabited by a more cosmopolitan population.

Changes in coastal Californian political spaces followed in response to the development pressures of the Post-WWII period. The 1970s witnessed a proliferation of federal environmental legislation, such as the passage of the Coastal Zone Management Act (CZMA), which induced the birth of state coastal management agencies such as the California Coastal Commission and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) like the Coastal Management Conference and The Coastal Society. Yet, today, development and political pressures have stymied coastal management in California (and other coastal states) and have overwhelmed the limited resources of coastal public policy and management entities. In the authors’ words: “The special policy space of coastal policy and management as a profession—as with the special cultural space of the coast—has become overshadowed by and submerged in other events and processes.” (p. 8). Corresponding changes in the coastal zone have resulted—for example, the amount of armored coastline in California increased from 26 miles in 1971 to 146 miles in 2018.

The authors conclude the essay with an assessment of future coastal management challenges presented by climate change hazards such as sea-level rise, increasingly frequent severe storms, and so forth. Encroaching sea levels will render certain coastal locales inhabitable, requiring communities and governments to engage in adaptation and planned retreat activities, which will signal the reinvention of coastal cultures and policies. New coastal cultures and management policies will be in a constant state of change and development with continued sea-level rise, which presents uncertainty and challenges unlike the cultural forces at play during the post-WWII period (economic expansion and the environmental movement). In closing, the authors offer coastal management practitioners the following recommendations:

  1. Climate change solutions should draw on expertise beyond that of the usual natural and social sciences, planning, and engineering—for example, the ideas of the humanities, such as environmental philosophy, and professional fields, such as business and activism;
  2. Adaptive management and conflict management strategies in coastal zone management should be revised to include more robust stakeholder engagement and a commitment to social equity and environmental justice; and
  3. Coastal management activities of monitoring natural and social systems and predicting future human impacts should incorporate insights from architects, engineers, and urban designers regarding the planning and future design requirements of adaptation.


Orbach, M. K., & Miller, M. L. (2021). How Have the U.S. Coasts Changed (and How Are They Going to Change) as Cultural and Policy Spaces? An Example from California. Coastal Management, doi:10.1080/08920753.2022.2006873.

Disclaimer: This post does not serve as an endorsement of the author’s opinion, nor does it express the views of the Coastal Society.

Coastal News from the Field: Adaptive Management of the Indian River Lagoon, Florida

By Ellis Kalaidjian

This blog post is the first of a new monthly series, tentatively titled “Coastal News from the Field,” which highlights new coastal management/conservation-themed research that makes us tick. We are excited about this new development for the blog and encourage our readers to reach out to with any research or topics they would like to see featured in this series.

This month, we highlight a study from a research team in Florida, titled “Adaptation Actions to Reduce Impairment of Indian River Lagoon Water Quality Caused by Climate Change, Florida, USA,” as published in the most recent issue of the Journal of Coastal Management. The motivation for this work comes from the increasing vulnerability of estuaries to climate change impacts of salt-water intrusion from rising sea levels, hydrological regime changes, water temperature increases, and so forth. The Indian River Lagoon (IRL) was designated as an Estuary of National Significance by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 1990 and, more recently, a Climate Ready Estuary in 2008, following a collaboration between the EPA and National Estuary Program in the form of the Climate Ready Estuaries Program.

Map of the IRL watershed (Source: EPA, 2004)
Aerial view of the IRL (Source: US Fish & Wildlife Service, 2006)

The core objective of this research was to assess the vulnerability of the IRL’s management program to climate change and prescribe adaptive actions designed to improve the program’s efficacy and protect the estuary from further climate-change-induced impairment. The research team first compiled and reviewed a list of the program goals (e.g., “water quality” or “healthy communities”) within the IRL’s Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan (CCMP) that were most likely at risk from climate change and the associated climate stressors jeopardizing those goals. The team then weighted each risk in a matrix based on parameters of consequence, likelihood, spatial scale, and timeline. A total of 472 risks were identified. Of those, 50% were associated with impacts to impaired waters, wastewater, and surface water. Nearly all (97%) of these risks were induced by three prevalent climate change stressors of altered precipitation regimes, increasing storminess, and sea-level rise.

From here, the research team was able to identify nine adaptation actions to mitigate water quality impairment caused by climate change. Each action focused on mitigating the major sources of elevated pollutant loadings anticipated to accompany climate change, including wastewater treatment plants, on-site treatment and disposal systems, and surface water storage and conveyance infrastructure; for example, one action was to create a GIS-based inventory of vulnerable infrastructure supporting the three systems. In addition, the team devised a five-step action plan that could be used to achieve each of the nine adaptation actions and proposed an integrated management regime based on the existing symbiosis between the state of Florida and the IRL National Estuary Program.

In the face of the emerging circumstances presented by climate change, it is paramount that we continually review and adapt the programs that we have instituted to protect our coastal resources. The research highlighted in this article showcases how adaptive management—a concept based in theory—can be operationalized to satisfy long-term conservation agendas. The study also demonstrates how vulnerability assessments can be used to prioritize and continually monitor program action areas that harmonize mutual interests of a diverse stakeholder network. Most importantly, the deliverables of this applied research have direct utility for future policymaking, community engagement initiatives, program financing, and other efforts that may otherwise have been hindered without recognition of the future management challenges posed by climate change.

Parkinson, R. W., Seidel, V., Henderson, C., & De Freese, D. (2021). Adaptation Actions to Reduce Impairment of Indian River Lagoon Water Quality Caused by Climate Change, Florida, USA. Coastal Management, 49(2), 215-232.