Building with Nature - an integrated approach for coastal zone solutions using natural, socio-economic and institutional processes

T. Wilms, F. van der Goot, A.O. Debrot

Research output: Contribution to conferenceConference paperAcademic

6 Citations (Scopus)


This paper presents Building with Nature as a viable alternative to the traditional engineering approach, making the services that nature provides an integral part of the design of hydraulic infrastructure, thereby creating benefits for nature and society. In it we describe the necessary steps with which to implement a
Building with Nature approach. Our case study in Demak, Central Java, Indonesia is used for examples to illustrate this approach and the lessons learnt on benefits and challenges. The location in Demak concerns a tropical muddy mangrove coast. During the last decades, in several areas the coastline has retreated hundreds of meters up to several kilometres, while in other parts of the project area the threat of erosion and flooding by the sea and decline of aquaculture productivity continue to worsen. In 2015, a pilot project to restore the natural coastal mangrove forest was started. The first step was to
establish a good understanding of the complex natural and local socio-economic environments. Based on this system understanding, we then chose for non-traditional solutions using temporary permeable structures made from local material to create wave-sheltered areas that stimulate the settlement of sediment and create a habitat favourable to mangrove recolonisation. Once the mangrove forest is fully-grown it will provide protection against waves. It will also provide other ecosystem services like food provisioning, tourism, nursery habitat for fishery production and CO2-storage. A long-term sustainable solution requires the integration of these technical measures into the local socio-economic and governmental context. To support a smooth transition towards sustainable practices, local communities are simultaneously trained in
sustainable methods to improve the productivity of their aquaculture ponds. This is done using “coastal field schools” as modelled from the “farmer field school” methodology developed by the FAO in 1989 for rural development. The approach is embedded in the village regulations. Sustainability in this rural area is created by closely linking safety and livelihood. The key lessons learnt from this project are that a combination of a thorough understanding of the biophysical, socio-economic and governmental system and early stakeholder involvement results in higher vital benefits, reduces costs and provides the setting for sustainable design solutions. It requires a learning and adaptive planning cycle from all participants as this approach exemplifies a “learning by doing” approach.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages7
Publication statusPublished - 2017
EventCoasts & Ports 2017 Conference - Cairns
Duration: 21 Jun 201723 Jun 2017


ConferenceCoasts & Ports 2017 Conference


  • integrated coastal zone management
  • system understanding
  • non-traditional solutions mangrove restoration
  • socio-economics
  • muddy coast


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