Adaptation pathways: A case study for managed retreat – Southend, South Australia

Ms Annabel  Sandery1

1Wavelength Consulting, Prospect, Australia


The coastline of Southend is important to the local community due to its recreation, tourism and nature values. The coastal assets, public land and infrastructure within the vicinity of the coastline have been increasingly subjected to coastal risks. Without action, associated impacts are expected to increase, threatening the assets and societal values of the town.

The main coastal threat to the settlement of Southend is erosion, which is already having a significant impact. In the longer term, climate change driven sea level rise is expected to cause further erosion and related impacts.  Attempts at reducing the existing erosion impacts have been made in the past, however these measures have been largely unsuccessful.  Recognising the value of the Southend coastline to the community, a robust plan for adapting to these risks has been developed, including identification of specific priority pathways for action.

A number of adaptation options were assessed against key criteria, including long-term effectiveness and social, environmental and economic outcomes. The project included the assessment of a number of protection strategies against other adaptation options, including managed retreat, deferring action and ‘do nothing’. Whilst there were a number of actionable items (adaptation options) that were identified as requiring immediate attention, the analysis identified managed retreat as the optimal approach for the settlement as a whole.

This paper gives an overview of the process  to identify managed retreat as the optimal adaptation pathway and considers the factors that  led to the adoption of the managed retreat pathway for the  Southend coast.


Annabel is based in Adelaide and is highly regarded for her commitment to her clients, providing effective and innovative service delivery to complex strategic engineering and management projects both here and interstate. In recognition of Annabel’s achievements in these fields, the New York Academy of Sciences has recently appointed Annabel as a mentor in the 1000 Girls, 1000 Futures program – a ground-breaking initiative designed to engage young women interested in science, technology, engineering, and math, and advance their pursuit of STEM careers through mentoring and 21st-century skills development.