Old Macdonald Had A Farm…A-T-I-O-N????

It is interesting how often the words restoration, mitigation, preservation, and adaptation are used in the current environmental field. But what do each of these words really mean, and what are the expectations for each?  Let’s explore!


  • the act or process of returning something to a former or original condition
  • a return of something to a former, original, normal, or unimpaired condition
Image of Wetland
Wetland Restoration Efforts

Most people are familiar with the term restoration, likely for homes, cars, or furniture. And most people would define it sort of like this—taking something from a damaged or diminished condition to “original” condition. The truth of the matter is, no matter how hard we try, nothing can ever be EXACTLY the same as the original. The environment is no different.  Replicating nature is impossible, but restoring environments is incredibly beneficial. When successfully restoring environments, it is critical to consider its function. The most important goal of restoration is to recreate the ecosystem services the area originally provided. Let’s compare this to restoring a car. If you restore everything but the engine, obviously the car will not function as it did coming off the assembly line. It will look great, but won’t drive you anywhere. Wetlands would be a great coastal example, as they provide numerous ecosystem services such as storm surge/flood protection, nurseries for many commercially important fish, act as a natural filter, and more. If we focus only on the total area or aesthetics to be restored and not the function, then we are not fully restoring the services the original ecosystem provided.


  • to make alterations to land to make it less polluted or more hospitable to wildlife
  • to make less severe

Mitigation is used quite often in coastal communities, particularly when coastal development occurs. When an act has negative impacts on the environment, mitigation is regularly used to “reduce” the impacts, sometimes by creating what is determined to be a “similar” environment. That may sound complicated, but essentially mitigation is doing something positive in one location to make up for a negative impact in another area. An example of mitigation would be response to Florida beach nourishment efforts. When beach nourishment projects have possible negative effects on nearshore reefs, the project is often required to mitigate by constructing artificial reefs in the local areas. Let’s try to create a simpler example. If a part of your and your neighbors’ front yard is eliminated by a road expansion, a mitigation effort could be providing a greenspace in your neighborhood. Just like restoration, mitigation is reactive in nature. Green_infrastructure


  • to keep in perfect or unaltered condition; maintain unchanged
  • to maintain an area for the protection of wildlife or natural resources

Preservation is a widely known term and undoubtedly the most environmentally friendly. A natural area in its unaltered condition functions properly and provides a multitude of ecosystem services. With the rapid growth of coastal communities, it’s difficult to preserve large tracts of land and coast; however the benefits are not solely just environmental. Many of the benefits related to preservation of land actually make economic sense. For example, having more preservation areas in the coastal zone actually makes it more resilient to storms and provides habitat for native species of commercially important fish. Additionally, preserving these areas is one way to help reduce your community’s flood insurance rate according to the National Flood Insurance Program’s Community Rating System. What is the best part about preservation? It is PROACTIVE!


  • a change, or the process of change by which an organism or species becomes better suited to its environment
  • a form or structure modified to fit a changed environment

Adaptation is more than a word; in the present state of our changing climate, adaptation has become a necessity. The word, in essence, simply means to change to become better suited to your environment. That change for most life on Earth takes place over generations. But humans have the innate ability to adapt in the present, yet we can do more. Taking a proactive approach to adaptation is essential for the success of coastal communities in the future. Preparing for expected sea level rise scenarios, increases in severe weather and nuisance flooding events, continued coastal erosion, saltwater intrusion and more must happen now! In the present! So how can your community adapt and prepare for some of these issues? One great way is to use green infrastructure and take advantage of the natural environment’s ecosystem services to improve your community’s resilience. For instance in coastal zones, dune restoration can aid in reducing storm surge impacts or restoring wetland areas can improve stormwater management. The primary focus of adaptation is to take advantage of our ability to adapt in the present and be proactive when it comes to environmental management.

Building resilience requires communities to use a combination of each of these methods.  The best options are always going to be those which are proactive.  Becoming a resilient coastal community does not and will not happen overnight, it is a process.  As you take your next trip to the beach consider how your community can use restoration, mitigation, preservation, and adaptation to combat future climate impacts.

Bradley Dean

Originally from South Jersey I was always in awe of the coast, better known as "the shore" where I am from. With a B.S. in marine science and biology from Coastal Carolina University, a M.S. from Florida Institute of Technology in environmental science and a M.S. from University of South Carolina in earth and environmental resource management, much of my work has been related to nearshore areas, benthic ecosystems in the surf zone, coastal erosion, and coastal management. I work for NOAA's Office for Coastal Management in Charleston, SC. Previously the focus of my work as a remote sensing specialist is to process DAV lidar for the Digital Coast. Now my new role as a project analyst in Washington D.C. allows me to learn even more about our organization, particularly policy. My current interests are determining ways to expedite and improve the coastal decision making process specifically, overcoming uncertainty, and proactive rather than reactive management.

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