Limits to Adaptation project: Coorong wetlands

View the project description and the final report or download a two-page summary of key findings.

Lead organisation: Institute for Land, Water and Society, Charles Sturt University

Principal investigator:  Catherine Gross

Project summary

The project will investigate actual and perceived ecological, economic, technological and social limits to adaptation, experience of current adaptation strategies (including maladaptation) and recommended adaptation pathways. It will investigate the less tangible but keenly-perceived social limits to adaptation  from the perspective of stake holder groups (covering ethics, knowledge and attitudes to risk and culture) in response to anticipated temperature rises as well as the more tangible limits in the ecological,  economic and technological domains. For example, a social area to be investigated will be the perceived inequities/limits to adaptation created by institutional arrangements regarding water allocation. Our approach, with an emphasis on social limits to adaptation and an ability to compare a range of limits to adaptation for different temperature scenario will allow general themes and lessons to emerge which can be applied more broadly, nationally and internationally.

The project will commence with a vulnerability assessment using existing information and knowledge and incorporate the outcomes into a framework to identify adaptation pathways and affected people, including different levels of adaption for key impacts. Desk-top reviews, interviews and workshops, will be used to develop adaptation pathways. Interviews will involve three levels, from scientific/academic practitioners to institutional/government to local experts and communities. Linkages and interactions regarding perceived impacts and limits for adaptation and possible pathways between these levels will be explored. Emergent themes developed from findings will be used to provide recommendations about improved adaptive management and community acceptance of adaptive management and residual impacts.


Deliver findings on limits to adaptation and provide guidance on adaptation pathways for wetlands based on information and experience obtained from researchers and communities from the Coorong Wetlands to:

  • identify ecological, social, economic and technological pathways for adaptation at the study site for different temperature scenario, and including perceived and practical limits to adaptation on-site and within the catchment, and shortfalls in information;
  • compare and contrast social and institutional features that promote or constrain the implementation of adaptation options and acceptance of substitutes for things that are lost, and extract lessons and guidance for wider application;
  • enhance the exchange of information between decision-makers, researchers and community based organisations through participatory processes and capacity building;
  • make recommendations for improvements to adaptation decision-making processes and thereby achieve greater acceptance of adaptation decisions by communities affected by changing social and climatic conditions; and
  • provide site-specific and generic guidance for adaptation, and compare to relevant international guidance.