Coastal ecosystems are under growing pressure from human activities such as pollution and climate change. Although the rapidly growing numbers of humans living in coastal areas is a large part of the problem, there is great opportunity to improve the resistance and resilience of biotic communities via creative changes to the engineering design of built infrastructure. Here, we apply ecological theories to create a framework for adaptive building in marine systems that can be applied by managers worldwide. We explain how climate effects could be mitigated across different spatial scales with both physical and biological interventions. This requires an approach based on ecological theory that incorporates our understanding of how systems withstand (resistance) or recover (resilience) from impacts and takes into account future local and global environmental conditions. By translating ecological theory into practical application, we propose a framework for the choice and design of coastal infrastructure that can underpin effective, forward-looking conservation strategies.

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