What is adaptive management?

Sediment Diversion Reading List

Adaptive management is an iterative decision-making process in which a system is managed variably over time based on determined goals and objectives, with the flexibility to adjust operations due to environment and resource conditions. In the face of economic, environmental and climatic uncertainties, adaptive management can improve the effectiveness of management strategies by using rigorous monitoring and evaluation methods in a continual learning process.

This management strategy is especially useful for large-scale projects involving infrastructure, like water control structures, because of the inherent flexibility to adjust operations based on real-time monitoring and evaluation of conditions.

How does adaptive management inform coastal restoration?

Adaptive Management wheel. Credit: ESSA Technologies, Ltd.

A primary goal of coastal restoration is to build and sustain as much land as possible, but there are key uncertainties regarding salinity changes, water levels, and changes to fish and wildlife populations. These uncertainties will need to be monitored and adapted to over time to ensure changing conditions are taken into account and adjusted for accordingly through management actions – minimizing negative impacts while maximizing land building and other management objectives.

How are adaptive management goals determined?

Robust adaptive management takes into account multiple perspectives by bringing a variety of stakeholders, agencies, scientists and engineers to the table early on to agree on goals, objectives and decision-making processes.

By encouraging consensus through collaborative governance structures, adaptive management can support ecological, economic and community needs simultaneously.

Using adaptive management to inform the Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion

Louisiana is beginning to develop an adaptive management plan for the Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion, a large-scale coastal restoration project. The plan will be a crucial guidebook to effective operations of the sediment diversion in the future.

The sediment diversion is being constructed in an already dynamic and ever-changing deltaic environment with innate uncertainties. But climate change and sea level rise add a layer of complexity to understanding the future of the Louisiana coast, both with and without the construction and operation of sediment diversions.

In Louisiana, there is no time to wait for perfect data, which is impossible to achieve. But adaptive management allows practitioners to take much needed action today while building a knowledge base for future decision-making, ensuring the overall goals for building and sustaining land are achieved, while also factoring in the needs of communities, fisheries, navigation, and other economic and social concerns.