Remote islands and long-term coastal adaptation pathways

Lewis J1, Watterson E1, Loehr H1, Webb A2

1Bluecoast Consulting Engineers Pty Ltd,

2Unite Nations Development Programme


Remote island communities face specific challenges in respect to marine hazards. Their exposure and vulnerability is well established and the impacts of climate change and sea level rise make the situation more urgent. The World Bank (2016) estimates that the highest adaptation costs for Pacific Island Countries by the year 2040 will be “coastal protection”.

Whilst reef mediated shoreline systems have been shown to have a degree of resilience to environmental change this is challenged by the combination of potential stressors and pace of unfolding climate change impacts.

Whilst the cost of doing nothing is plainly unacceptable, reactive and, in some cases, maladaptive coastal protection measures, may provide short-term improvements, but often undermine the island’s natural resilience and are seldom justifiable as part of long-term coastal adaptation strategy. Implementation of these measures tends to be the result of:

– misunderstanding of the fundamental coastal processes unique to reef-mediated shores and atoll environments

– necessary and counterproductive reliance on international post-disaster assistance to address coastal vulnerability issues tend to result in reactionary, ‘fix and forget’ projects

By first understanding the local coastal processes and associated human aspirations, better solutions may be implemented that preserve and promote natural resilience. These solutions must also consider the significant logistic, social, environmental and political factors influencing coastal adaption projects in these environments.

This paper presents case studies on coastal adaptation projects from remote islands. We discuss the common issues and key differences in planning and funding approaches in context of supporting or promoting the natural resilience of the islands and their communities.

Theme: coastal resilience and preparedness: coastal hazard assessment, risk management, adaptation planning, decision-making frameworks.

Keywords: Climate change adaptation, adaptation strategy, coastal protection, remote communities


James is a Senior Coastal Engineer and Director of Bluecoast Consulting Engineers. He holds a  bachelor degree from Griffith University Gold Coast in Civil Engineering with a major in Coastal Engineering in 2004. He has over 13 years experience in coastal and metocean engineering for both the public and private sectors and most recently has been woring with the United Nations Develpment Programme to deliver the Tuvalu Coastal Adaptation Project