The concept of resilience has taken root in the discourse of environmental management, especially regarding Building with Nature strategies for embedding natural physical and ecological dynamics into engineered interventions in developed coastal zones. Resilience is seen as a desirable quality, and coastal management policy and practice are increasingly aimed at maximising it. Despite its ubiquity, resilience remains ambiguous and poorly defined in management contexts. What is coastal resilience? And what does it mean in settings where natural environmental dynamics have been supplanted by human-dominated systems? Here, we revisit the complexities of coastal resilience as a concept, a term, and a prospective goal for environmental management. We consider examples of resilience in natural and built coastal environments, and offer a revised, formal definition of coastal resilience with a holistic scope and emphasis on systemic functionality: “Coastal resilience is the capacity of the socioeconomic and natural systems in the coastal environment to cope with disturbances, induced by factors such as sea level rise, extreme events and human impacts, by adapting whilst maintaining their essential functions.” Against a backdrop of climate change impacts, achieving both socioeconomic and natural resilience in coastal environments in the long-term (>50 years) is very costly. Cost trade-offs among management aims and objectives mean that enhancement of socioeconomic resilience typically comes at the expense of natural resilience, and vice versa. We suggest that for practical purposes, optimising resilience might be a more realistic goal of coastal zone management.
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