Abstract The world's coastal resources are under pressure, even more so under climate change with 90% of the world's population living near or along our coastal zone. Ecologically, this zone is also the most productive, and the mainstay of economic livelihoods on a global scale. Managing the coast effectively is crucial, but as an area it remains contested. Despite multiple efforts to manage the coast, it remains a contested space. This paper offers a reflection into the ways in which different discourses influence and impact on one specific dimension of coastal zone management—the transmission of science into the policy domain. Using historical and discourse analysis, we find that the science-policy interface is largely constructed within two knowledge discourses: (i) scientific knowledge and (ii) local knowledge. This arbitrary separation into a binary discursive landscape mitigates against science-policy integration in practice especially given each discourse in itself, encompasses multiple forms of knowledge. We argue that in order to better understand how to build scientific research outputs into policy, decision makers and researchers need to understand how knowledge works in practice, overcome this dichotomous construction of knowledge and specifically, re-construct or transition the notion of ‘science as knowledge’ into ‘all knowledge types’ into policy.