Integrated Coastal Management: Comparing the experiences of South Africa and the UK

South Africa (SA) has perhaps the model legislation for Integrated Coastal Management (ICM) of any country, especially compared to the United Kingdom (UK) which has no specific legal framework for ICM. However, after ten years of implementation effort, many South Africans are critical about the government’s ability to deliver. In contrast, significant focus on ICM initiatives (such as this) in the UK during recent decades, particularly at the policy level, led to many delivery efforts on the ground (such as the Thames Estuary Partnership, Pembrokeshire Coastal Forum, Morecombe Bay Partnership and many others). In both countries, resources for implementation efforts are squeezed and power struggles ongoing.

This blogpost makes a brief comparison of the framework for and delivery of coastal governance in SA and the UK, based on a three-day workshop hosted by research co-ordinators from both countries. Under the Researcher Links scheme offered within the Newton Fund, the British Council, in partnership with the South African National Research Foundation, organised the workshop on ‘Research capacity for sustainable ecosystem-based management of estuaries and coasts’ at the premises of the Oceanographic Research Institute, uShaka Marine World in Durban, South Africa, from 19-21 June 2018.

In SA, several decades of natural science effort have led to a strong understanding of the vast coastal resource: over 3,000km of coastline with nearly 300 river catchments draining into the coastal zone. It spans three biogeographical regions with some 10,000 species of plants and animals recorded, representing 15% of the global marine species diversity. The coastal zone provides approximately 35% of the country’s annual gross domestic product. Given this diversity, the SA ICM Act aims to ensure cooperative governance for sustainable coastal utilization. The ICM Act assigns roles and responsibilities for implementation to the lead agency of each province and the onus is on them to meet objectives within their existing budgets. As in the UK, I sensed that there is now a need for stronger social and economic science to support ICM implementation.

Of the 300 estuaries in SA, 76 are located in the KwaZulu-Natal Province which has produced a Coastal Management Programme (2017-2022) to provide policy direction for management of the coastal zone. It clearly identifies the roles and responsibilities at the national, provincial and local government levels. However, budget allocation is limited and sustainable financing mechanisms are a challenge to find.

The UK government stopped short of ICM legislation during focused effort in the 1990s-2000s, and in the early 2010s actively sought its removal from the integrated maritime policy and planning directive of the European Parliament/Council of the European Union. This has left EC Member States with only the ICZM Recommendation (2002) to support implementation efforts – apart from Mediterranean countries which have the option of adopting the ICZM Protocol. However, there has been a plethora of practical ICM delivery effort, with the OURCOAST database offering insights to over 350 projects, and an ongoing focus on land-sea interactions to support maritime spatial planning through the MSP Platform.

In the UK, ongoing policy implementation is challenged by a lack of national direction and investment. However, through the ‘pump-priming’ of coastal and estuary initiatives in the early 1990s, nearly 100 local coastal partnership efforts evolved with a wide range of estuary strategies, action plans and business plans. Despite a 50% decline in Coastal Partnerships (paper forthcoming) these voluntary networks still exist for approximately 40 estuaries and coastal areas. They illustrate how bottom-up governance can support coastal and marine management with funding partners from private, public and non-governmental sectors, facilitating collaboration at the ecosystem level. Some are forming charities or companies to support sustainable financing.

The overall goal of ICM, as defined in the South African National Coastal Management Programme, is to: “Improve the quality of life of human communities who depend on coastal resources while maintaining the biological diversity and productivity of coastal ecosystems…. It is a process that unites government and the community, science and management, sectoral and public interests in preparing and implementing an integrated plan for the protection and development of coastal ecosystems and resources.” If ICM is a process of uniting all these elements, new mechanisms are needed to facilitate collaboration and stewardship from the bottom-up as well as top-down.

The UK-SA estuaries and coasts workshop delegates worked hard at uniting science and management. Our meeting of minds left a feeling that somewhere between South Africa’s ICM legal framework and the UK’s stalwart policy approach to ICM and ‘bottom-up’ experiences (UK Coastal and Estuary Partnerships are currently serviced by the Coastal Partnerships Network), there was common ground. Both approaches are squeezed by the lack of funding mechanisms driven by legislation or policy, together with austerity restrictions on local government funding. Both countries are striving for sustainable financing mechanisms to support implementation. The practical delivery effort in the UK and across Europe may have something useful to offer SA on its road towards delivering the ICM legislation. In fact, from a UK perspective I aspire to more than that: the South Africans not compromising on the text of their legislation due to implementation challenges; but rising to the challenge and utilising practical delivery experience from elsewhere to support their efforts. The alternative would be a backward step – not just for SA – but for global progress in ICM.

In summary, it seems SA has the ‘golden umbrella’ for ICM in its legislation which empowers the public sector. The UK has experience of the ‘grounded reality’ where implementation of policy is challenged by a lack of public investment, but where locally-driven ecosystem-based partnership solutions are bringing in investment from many sectors and leading practical delivery.

Following three days in a dark windowless workshop space in the basement of Africa’s largest marine aquarium, the chance for fresh sea air in the Umfolozi river catchment and coastal wetlands around St Lucia, further clarified these thoughts. Our wetland tour guide brought this to light when in discussion about whether and when the estuary mouth would be opened to the sea; he illustrated his frustration in simple terms: the authorities don’t listen to the community”. That makes ICM sound easy – we just need to link ‘top-down’ and ‘bottom-up’ approaches for the optimal way forward.

Natasha is a member of the Coastal Partnerships Network committee and currently researching for a Doctorate in collaborative governance of the UK coast. E: / W: