Living at the Edge – Transforming the Margins


Prof Paul Kench

Programme Co-Leader

The University of Auckland


Assoc Prof Mark Dickson

Programme Co-Leader

The University of Auckland



Many New Zealanders are drawn to the coast, and our country is characterized by a large number of coastal communities. However, living on ‘The Edge’ (in dynamic physical settings such as coastal margins and flood plains) means that coastal communities are highly vulnerable to natural coastal hazards (erosion, flooding and inundation due to sea-level rise). Because of this, Edge communities want to understand how best to adapt to these rapidly changing and hazardous environments. The Living at the Edge – Transforming the Margins programme is co-creating tangible and viable solutions to support communities living in highly vulnerable coastal settings. 

The programme is being developed in Hawke’s Bay, one of New Zealand’s “hot spots” of community vulnerability to coastal hazards. Underpinned by a participatory approach, the programme, together with stakeholders, aims to develop pathways that enable communities to meaningfully engage, understand and contribute to the resolution of intense conflicts in high-risk locations, especially those exacerbated by changing climate, environment, socio-economic and land-development scenarios. The team is working closely with key stakeholders in Hawke’s Bay to support development of the Clifton to Tangoio Coastal Hazards Strategy 2120.



Feature: Managed retreat and the RMA

A new report from our contestable fund looks at the role of the RMA in managing existing land-uses in response to natural hazard risk.

The report Reducing risk through the management of existing uses: tensions under the RMA by Emily Grace, Ben France-Hudson and Margaret Kilvington, explores why there are so few examples of the RMA being used in this way, and recommends both changes in practice and implementation and legislative changes.

Read more >  


Feature: From guidance to practice – the adaptation transition at the coast 

Low-lying coastal communities face accelerating coastal hazard risks from ongoing sea-level rise this century and beyond. This report by Judy Lawrence, Rob Bell, Paula Blackett, Emma Ryan and Laura Robichaux from the Living at the Edge programme discusses the lessons learned from applying the approaches set out in the national Coastal Hazards and Climate Change Guidance. 

Read more >




Building a shared understanding of processes, hazards and community resilience

Exploring wider community understandings and experiences of hazards in the case study area, including characterisation of the social and economic characteristics, networks and values and attitudes that underpin community attachment and resilience.

Project lead: Prof Paul Kench

Host: The University of Auckland


Scenario exploration of coastal futures

Developing a shared ‘community – scientific – local government’ understanding and vision for future hazards and identifying whether, and to what extent, there will be intensification of risk to the community over time.

Project lead: Prof Paul Kench

Host: University of Auckland


Building the resilient vision

Developing adaptive technical and planning pathways to build community resilience and inform and advise future decision-making processes.

Project lead: Prof Paul Kench

Host: The University of Auckland


Managed Retreat

This project, funded through the Challenge’s contestable funding process in 2017, is investigating the legal and social implications of changing existing land use in hazard areas.

Project lead: Emily Grace

Host: GNS Science


Feature: Managed retreat; unpacking the ‘black box’

Low-lying coastal communities around New Zealand will need to start embracing managed retreat as climate change and sea-level rise continue to encroach on and erode our coasts.

Read more >


Hawke’s Bay Regional Council:

The role of ‘Living at the Edge’ team


Key Achievements


Hawke’s Bay sediment

Field work completed to improve our understanding of the Hawke’s Bay sediment transport and abrasion rates through relocating traced cobbles on the beachface.



Conducted a survey of the Hawke’s Bay public about coastal values, coastal hazards and coastal management.


Citizen science

Ran a coastal hazards citizen science project at Napier Girls High School in early March 2017 and 2018.


Terry Healy Coastal Project Award

The ‘Edge’ project was awarded the inaugural Terry Healy Coastal Project Award by the New Zealand Coastal Society.



Conference presentations

Presented at the New Zealand Coastal Society Conference (2017) and the Pacific Climate Change Conference (2017) with several more conference presentations planned in 2018.


Clifton to Tangoio Coastal Hazards Strategy

Contributing to 34 workshops at Hawke’s Bay Regional Council as part of the Clifton to Tangoio Coastal Hazards Strategy 2120 throughout 2017 and early 2018, including applying the Dynamic Adaptive Policy Pathways approach in a coastal setting for the first time.


Managed retreat review

A detailed exploration of managed retreat in a coastal context through development of a review of international examples and critical elements of successful managed retreat.


Feature: Student Profile

Laura at the beach

Laura Robichaux

Laura grew up in South Louisiana, and so is familiar with the benefits and risks of living on the coast.

Using case-studies from both Louisiana and Hawke’s Bay, Laura’s thesis investigates the “implementation gap” in coastal risk management that prevents many technically viable projects from making it to completion. 

Read more >

Thesis Research Students


Sophia Browne (MSc at The University of Auckland) – Modelling storm behaviour and relative sea level change on mixed sand and gravel barrier beaches in southern Hawkes Bay, New Zealand. 

Brittany Knight (MSc at The University of Auckland) – Sediment transport and abrasion rates on mixed sand and gravel beaches, southern Hawke’s Bay.

Laura Robichaux (PhD at The University of Auckland) – Evaluation of the Implementation Gap in Coastal Risk Management.

Sam Olufson (MSc at Victoria University) – Components and Costing Managed Retreat in a Coastal Setting. 

Affiliated with other Resilience Challenge programmes

Ashton Eaves (PhD at The University of Auckland) – Building resilience to climate change through modelling managed retreat in a coastal setting (Economics programme). 

Selected publications

Lawrence, J., Bell, R., Stroombergen, A. 2019. A Hybrid Process to Address Uncertainty and Changing Climate Risk in Coastal Areas Using Dynamic Adaptive Pathways Planning, Multi-Criteria Decision Analysis & Real Options Analysis: A New Zealand Application. Sustainability.

Allison, A.E.F., Dickson, M.E., Fisher, K.T. and Thrush, S.F. 2017. Dilemmas of modelling and decision-making in environmental research, Environmental Modelling and Software, 99: 147-155 DOI:

Kench, P.S., Ryan, E.J., Owen, S., Bell, R., Lawrence, J., Glavovic, B., Blackett, P., Becker, J., Schneider, P., Allis, M., Dickson, M., and Rennie, H.G. 2018. Co-creating resilience solutions to coastal hazards through an interdisciplinary research project in New Zealand, In: Shim, J.-S.; Chun, I., and Lim, H.S. (eds.), Proceedings from the International Coastal Symposium (ICS) 2018 (Busan, Republic of Korea). Journal of Coastal Research, Special Issue No. 85, pp. 1496–1500. Coconut Creek (Florida), ISSN 0749-0208.

Lawrence, J., Bell, R., Blackett, P., Stephens, S. and Allan, S. 2018. National guidance for adapting to coastal hazards and sea-level rise: anticipating change, when and how to change the pathway, Environmental Science and Policy, 82: 100-107

Owen, S.D., Turner, T., Ryan, E.J. and Kench, P.S. 2017. Rethinking Coastal Margins: the implementation of managed retreat options in New Zealand, the USA, Australia and the UK. Unpublished report to the Technical Advisory Group of the Clifton to Tangoio Coastal Hazards Strategy 2120.

Owen, S., Lawrence, J. Ryan, E., Kench, P., Bell, R., Rennie, H., Blackett, P., and Schneider, P. 2018. Anticipating staged managed retreat at the coastal margins. Planning Quarterly, Issue 209: 8-11. 

Stephens, S.A., Bell, R.G. and Lawrence, J. 2017. Applying principles of uncertainty within coastal hazard assessments to better support coastal adaptation, Journal of Marine Science and Engineering, 5(40): doi:10.3390/jmse5030040



 Edge Programme details