Coastal Management and Climate Adaptation

Wadden Sea coast of Northern Germany, looking towards Nordstrandischmoor (Hallig island).

Coastal protection and management represents a task of vital importance for many coastal communities and authorities. Indeed, coastal protection is a prerequisite for settlement and economic development for many coastal areas.

The coastal regions of the Netherlands and Germany look back on a long tradition of coastal defence, with massive investments in dike-building, drainage of marshlands and reclamation of land from the sea over the a period of more than one thousand years. Catastrophic storm flood events in the fourteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries continue play a central role in collective memory and regional region. Comparatively recently, concern for the protection of the marine environment and coastal landscapes has led to new perspectives in coastal management, requiring integrated and adaptive solutions, working with rather than against natural dynamics.

Climate change and anthropogenic sea level rise place an additional burden on coastal infrastructures and increase the vulnerability of coastal communities. Against this background, adaptive coastal management requires careful monitoring of complex trends, long-term planning and risk assessment and dialogue across multiple stakeholder groups. The protection of Europe’s coasts will undoubtedly require substantial capital investment and balanced, careful planning to ensure infrastructure projects are developed and implemented with due sensitivity to the marine environment and the needs and values of local coastal communities.

My work in this area has focussed on the following issues:

– How different professional communities and policy areas come together to develop integrated climate adaptation strategies;

– How different forms of expert and lay knowledge or ‘ways of knowing’ the coast can be combined to produce common visions for the future;

– Analysis of place-based landscape narratives, understandings of nature-society relations and perceptions of climate change at the coast;

– Analysis of the governance requirements for adaptive coastal management and their implications for spatial planning at the land-sea interface.

Current and Recent Activities

An analysis of the process of preparing an integrated climate adaptation strategy for the Wadden Sea coast of Schleswig-Holstein has been published in the journal Ocean and Coastal Management in 2019. This strategy was particularly innovative in bringing together the coastal protection and nature conservation policy communities. Its dominant focus on technical expertise, however, may lead to problems of acceptance and buy-in from the local communities on the coast and islands.

A previous article, published in the journal Area in 2018, examines the ideas of space, place, nature and culture underlying the same Wadden Sea climate adaptation strategy. It found that the strategy-makers struggled to move beyond established categories of natural and cultural landscape in seeking to balance the priorities of nature conservation and coastal defence at what is both a man-made reclaimed landscape and a vulnerable ecosystem classified as World Heritage Site of outstanding natural value.

More information on my research at the Wadden Sea may be found here

Please note that a number of published articles may be behind paywalls. Please contact me for a pre-print version.