Scholars, practitioners, and environmentalists are increasingly supportive of collaborative, ecosystem-based approaches to coastal resource management. However, few researchers have focused their attention on the institutional challenges confronting practitioners. The objective of this study is to explore these challenges using a case study of the implementation of a special area management (SAM) plan for the Salt Ponds watershed in Rhode Island. Specifically, the article utilizes the institutional analysis and development (IAD) framework to examine the structure and performance of the institutional arrangement used to implement the Salt Ponds SAM plan. The analysis reveals important lessons for practitioners involved in ecosystembased management. In particular, the case study demonstrates that polycentric institutional arrangements can often be just as effective as centralized, hierarchical approaches to coordinating and implementing integrated coastal resource management programs.
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