AbstractAdapting to climate change and sea level rise is challenging on small islands. False adaptation can lead to adverse impacts on natural and societal dynamics. Therefore, an interdisciplinary perspective on the interaction of natural dynamics, societal demands, and political decisions is crucial. In this sense, this study scrutinizes coastal processes and socio-political dimensions of erosion on the reef island Fuvahmulah, the Maldives. The national government and Fuvahmulah’s population have an opposed perception and attribution of the drivers and processes behind Fuvahmulah’s most pressing coastal issue – coastal erosion. To review these perceptions, natural dynamics are recreated with process-based methods and discussed regarding present and projected marine pressures. Population surveys and interviews with actors in coastal development complement the physical insights into erosion on Fuvahmulah and describe the socio-political dimension of climate change adaptation on small islands. This interdisciplinary approach demonstrates how small-islands’ adaptive capacities are typically impaired and disclose the potential of local knowledge to overcome maldevelopment.