Adaptive management for water quality planning - from theory to practice

Annotation for Adaptive management for water quality planning - from theory to practice

Eberhard R., Robinson C.J, Waterhouse J., Parslow J., Hart B., Grayson R., Taylor B.. 2009. Adaptive management for water quality planning - from theory to practice. Marine and Freshwater Research. 60


To propose a protocol for guiding an adaptive management approach to water quality management in north-eastern Australia.

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Key Findings: 

Adaptive management is a structured learning approach for managing uncertainty in complex systems. This article tests a protocol for conducting this adaptive approach within the context of water quality management in the Great Barrier Reef, Australia. The protocol is based on documenting uncertainties, managing performance expectations, negotiating feedback, and incorporating iterative and transformative responses into future scenarios. Benefits arising from the implementation of the protocol included: (i) opportunities for iterative planning as a result of rigorous and timely monitoring and evaluation systems; (ii) early initiation of actions and transformative planning through improved anticipation of changes to plans; and (iii) the identification of coordinated, multi-scalar responses for creating environmental knowledge, and to manage uncertainties and assumptions. The protocol is a practical attempt to transition from adaptive management theory to praxis.


The need to address problems of scale is central to adaptive learning theory and practice, and this article also highlights this consistently emerging issue. In this regard, the authors emphasise the need for continued research into the potential for nesting adaptive management strategies across planning scales as a way to manage uncertainty within complex systems. Linking, co-ordinating and learning across planning scales in this way is a fundamental problem in relation to human-nature interactions, and therefore a key lesson for adaptive learning.