Natural Resources, School of


Document Type


Date of this Version



Env Pol Gov. 2023;1–12. DOI: 10.1002/eet.2056


Open access.


Effective governance of social-ecological systems (SES) is an enduring challenge, especially in coastal environments where accelerating impacts of climate change are increasing pressure on already stressed systems. While resilience is often proposed as a suitable framing to re-orient governance and management, the literature includes many different, and sometimes conflicting, definitions and ideas that influence how the concept is applied, especially in coastal environments. This study combines discourse analysis of the coastal governance literature and key informant interviews in Tasmania, Australia, demonstrating inconsistencies and confusion in the way that resilience is framed in coastal governance research and practice. We find that resilience is most often framed as (1) a rate of recovery from disturbance or (2) the process of acting in response to, or anticipation of, a disturbance. A third framing considers resilience as an emergent property of SESs. This framing, social-ecological resilience, accounts for multiple configurations of SES, which necessitates adaptation and transformation strategies to address changes across temporal and spatial scales. Coastal managers recognised the value of this third framing for governing coastal SESs, yet the confusion and inconsistency in the literature was also evident in how they understood and applied resilience in practice. Expanding the use of social-ecological resilience is essential for more effective coastal governance, given the dynamics of coastal SESs and the intensity of social, economic, and environmental drivers of change these systems face. However, this requires addressing the unclear, confused, and superficial use of resilience-oriented concepts in research and policy discourse.