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Knowledge about adaptive capacity and its determinants has increased significantly over the last decade. However, most research on adaptive capacity has been static, not considering how adaptive capacity might change over time, particularly after severe disturbances. We studied the adaptive capacity dynamics of Asian-Pacific reef tourism operators affected by coral bleaching and tropical cyclones compared with a control group with non-affected operators. We found that impacts from tropical cyclones were associated with frequent changes in adaptive capacity. Notably, we found a reduction in tangible attributes (assets and flexibility) of adaptive capacity, whereas intangible attributes (agency and social organization) increased. Our findings provide evidence that adaptive capacity is not necessarily a slowly changing variable; rather, adaptive capacity can change rapidly and in complex ways following severe climate impacts. Understanding adaptive capacity dynamics can support adaptation programs by showing where changes in capacity are most likely to occur after severe climate impacts.