Adaptation Types and Examples

Explore tabs below to learn about what adaptation and resilience are and what they look like in practice.

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Adaptation in coastal communities is the active management of resources or processes in response to a long-term stressor (e.g., population growth or sea level rise) or shock (e.g., major hurricane or nor'easter). Adaptation is doing business with the best information available, knowing that the information will change in the future. Making decisions in this uncertain environment has always happened. However, the challenge moving forward involves adapting to conditions that are changing at faster rates, entering communities into uncharted territory as far as how the systems that make up our society will be affected.

These changing conditions are presenting a 'new normal' requiring communities to continually reassess their approach to natural resource management, community investment and other decision-making processes.

Many communities are already engaging in adaptation when they upgrade infrastructure with design standards that take into account what future conditions (e.g., increased development, higher sea level, more intense rainfall events) might present in terms of stress. Or, when engaging in wetland or estuarine shoreline restoration, they are increasing the ability of that ecosystem to sustain itself which in turn provides enhanced water quality, food system, and flood reduction benefits to humans. Adaptation includes hazard mitigation actions and strategies that also consider climate change effects. To more easily connect the dots, it is important to inform these activities with the latest science and community stakeholder engagement as well as coordination across departments, disciplines and in many cases, jurisdictions.

Potential adaptation objectives:

  • Reduce exposure (e.g., relocation of structure)
  • Reduce sensitivity (e.g., elevation of structure or installation of a living shoreline)
  • Increase adaptive capacity (e.g., training, education)


Resilience is, in part, how well a community and the systems that make it up or it depends on (e.g., healthcare, transportation, electricity, water and sewer, food, etc.) can adapt to the changing environment.  The rest of what makes a community resilient depends on how the community defines its core values and measures long-term success. Building resilience requires being more proactive in mitigating shock and stressor impacts in order to minimize the need to be reactive during disaster recovery.

This process of defining resilience and developing plans and goals to increase it can happen in a number of ways. The approach a community chooses depends on a number of factors including staff capacity, the extent of existing planning efforts, and community desires. Regardless, it's important for a community to consider the overlap between adaptation, hazard mitigation, and emergency preparedness activities and how they connect and relate to building overall resilience.

There is no silver bullet solution to building coastal resilience. Instead, each community must find the right mix of natural or nature-based solutions and other engineering or policy changes to proactively address issues. Explore the resources and graphic below to get a sense for what the options are for mitigating and adapting to various hazards. 

  • Naturally Resilient Solutions (several organizations such as APA, ASFM, TNC, and others): Easily visualize how a range of nature-based options can address various hazards that face coastal communities. 
  • FEMA Mitigation Ideas (2013): View a list of potential hazard mitigation activities to consider for reducing the risk of natural hazards like flooding, sea level rise and wildfire.
  • A Matrix of Adaptations to Flooding (AdavtVA): Access a one-page reference table related to flooding hazards.

Approaches to Coastal Risk Reduction

Source: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (NACCS, 2015)

Learn about how the following communities are leading the state in their proactive approach to coastal resilience and adaptation planning with help from a number of partners.

Name Focus of the Effort Supported By Description
Division of Coastal Management's Coastal Resilience Pilot Project (2018) Community asset mapping and vulnerability assessment The Nature Conservancy & NC Sea Grant Learn how DCM has assisted five local governments in conducting Resilience Evaluation and Needs Assessments (RENAs) which resulted in the development of various adaptation options.
EPA Wilmington Community Resilience Pilot Project (2013) Water and wastewater infrastructure: vulnerability assessment and identification of adaptation strategies for sea-level-rise and flooding US Environmental Protection Agency Learn how the City of Wilmington, New Hanover County, and Cape Fear Public Utility Authority conducted a vulnerability assessment and identified adaptation strategies.
Town of Nags Head Coastal Resilience and Sea Level Rise Planning (2017) Vulnerability, Consequences, Adaptations Planning Scenarios (VCAPS) process (see Tools section) NC Sea Grant, UNC Coastal Studies Institute, NC State University, Binghamton University, and Carolinas Integrated Sciences & Assessments (CISA) Nags Head is leading through their integration of VCAPS results with the comprehensive plan and unified development ordinance (UDO) updates.
Town of Plymouth Community Assessment (2012) Plymouth took a comprehensive look at their flooding issues and impacts through diagramming and mapping.
Town of Swansboro CAMA Land Use Plan (2019) NC Sea Grant, Division of Coastal Management and The Nature Conservancy Swansboro has used results from VCAPS to include a section of their new land use plan community profile on Resiliency and Climate Adaptation. It discusses sea-level-rise, increasing vulnerability and a proposed Conservation Priority Area overlay for the future land use map that would reduce the density and intensity of development in vulnerable or sensitive areas.
Hyde County Flood Planning and Resilience Guide (2016) Flood preparedness planning NC Sea Grant This guide for residents outlines relevant resources and steps to consider before, during, and after a flood event.
Morehead City Floodplain Management Plan (2017) Floodplain management and planning Multiple partners Morehead City identified and sought to address a number of flood-related hazards including climate change and sea level rise, gaining numerous FEMA Community Rating System credits.
Town of Columbia LID Manual (2012) Low Impact Development (LID) guidelines and examples NC Coastal Federation These manuals provide guidelines for implementing water quality and quantity control measures for existing and new development.
Town of Cedar Point and Cape Carteret LID Manual (2012)
Town of Nags Head LID Manual (2015)
Cumberland County Climate Resilience Plan (2016) Non-coastal climate adaptation planning Led by Sustainable Sandhills in association with City of Fayetteville, Model Forest Policy Program, and Cumberland River Compact This approach includes both climate and non-climate conditions of concern in the County, and a Strategic Action Plan.
Hurricane Matthew Post-Disaster Recovery Plans & HomePlace Community Conversation Guides for Rebuilding: Fair Bluff, Kinston, Lumberton, Princeville, Seven Springs, and Windsor Riverine communities: holistic long-term recovery planning and integration of resilient design principles Hurricane Matthew Disaster Recovery and Resilience Initiative (HMDRRI): UNC-Chapel Hill and NC State University faculty, students, and professional planning and design/landscape architecture experts. Funded by NC Policy Collaboratory and NC Division of Emergency Management. HMDRRI provided six hard-hit communities with the technical assistance needed to address issues typically not fully addressed by post-disaster programs that were identified by participating communities, including: the development of disaster recovery plans; the development and implementation of a housing relocation strategy; the creation of open space guidance; and the flood retrofit of historic downtowns.

The oceanfront system is a highly dynamic and complex environment with changes occurring at every scale from seconds, to months, to decades, to millennia. Affected by both natural processes and human intervention, oceanfront shorelines are both an asset and threat to local economies, infrastructure, and environment. Finding the right balance of protective or restorative measures to deal with issues like long-term erosion and sea level rise requires thoughtful planning, policy, and program design.

Coastal communities and engineers alike have learned that while no single project will address a particular shoreline issue, you can design a program to better manage it.

Case Study:

  • Bogue Banks Beach Master Nourishment Plan (Carteret County, 2018): the Carteret County Shoreline Protection Office has developed a 50-year plan for beach nourishment covering a region of several municipalities along the roughly 25-mile barrier island. Learn more about the county's other shoreline preservation plans and activities.
    • Funded in part by the county's occupancy tax, and municipal special property tax, along with FEMA reimbursement post-storm, their approach is considered a highly innovative and successful because it accomplishes many objectives:
      • Plan regionally for multiple jurisdictions
      • Facilitate the permitting, authorization, and scheduling of shoreline nourishment/maintenance
      • Balance the protection of the tourism industry, state and local infrastructure and oceanfront or adjacent structures
      • Maintain natural resources and associated recreational uses while avoiding and minimizing adverse environmental impacts
      • Consolidate individual town and county resources in a more cost and logistically effective way



Source: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (NACCS, 2015)





Source: Systems Approach to Geomorphic Engineering, NOAA, and USACE, 2015

For decades, installing hardened structures like bulkheads have been used to protect private property from estuarine shoreline erosion. More recently, the use of softer natural or nature-based solutions, such as living shorelines, has proven to be another potentially effective and more resilient option for combating erosion where feasible (see graphic above). Explore the examples and resources below to learn how and where different estuarine shoreline management approaches are being used. 

Existing Projects:

Living Shoreline Monitoring:


Climate Change Impacts to Estuaries: