AbstractIn times of climate change and global ecosystem degradation, Small Island Developing States (SIDS) are both showcases and indicators for global social‐ecological dynamics. Resilience is among the most prominent concepts to assess and improve communities’ capacity to adapt to environmental changes, described as adaptability. But how environmental pressures are perceived, and how this perception translates into action and specific behavioural patterns, is regionally different and depends on cultural, historical and cognitive contexts. Within the cultural and regional framing, different knowledge systems can be identified, which affect perception of and behaviour towards environmental concerns. Knowledge systems can be competing, because they are influenced by different and changing cultural identities, experiences, worldviews, norms and (unequal) power relations. How do competing knowledge systems influence adaptability? And how can we learn from them, respectively? By means of qualitative and quantitative empirical research on The Bahamas, we show how different knowledge systems translate into different modes of responding to specific environmental pressures, such as sea‐level rise. The understanding of historicity and temporality, experience and learning processes, and institutional settings, which frame people's knowledge of their environment, is important for understanding potentials for adaptability.