Protecting South Africa’s coastline pays off

South Africa is known worldwide for its beautiful coastline, and now one of the country’s progressive policies to protect these resources is drawing international attention.

In an effort to offer new ways to manage the activities of people in the coastal zone, the law was drawn up in line with international best practice recommendations to ensure that the country’s coastal resources are utilised sustainably and responsibly.

policy-text4 Umhlanga Rocks, KwaZulu-Natal province. The Act will also deal with pollution in the coastal zone, integrated estuarine management, and prevent dumping at sea. 
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Wilma den Hartigh

South Africa is known worldwide for its beautiful coastline, and now one of the country’s progressive policies to protect these resources is drawing international attention.

The Integrated Coastal Management Act (ICM Act) of 2008 has been shortlisted for the 2012 Future Policy Award, a prestigious international accolade that recognises exemplary policies that create better living conditions for current and future generations.

The aim of the award, given annually by the World Future Council (WFC), is to raise global awareness for policies that speed up progress to create just, sustainable and peaceful societies.

The ICM Act is the first law of its kind in South Africa to promote coordinated management and sustainable use of the country’s coastal resources, and being shortlisted serves as a vote of confidence in the measures put in place by the country to protect its coastline.

Dr Monde Mayekiso, deputy director general of oceans and coasts at the Department of Environmental Affairs, says the process of transforming the management of coastal resources started in 1992, when the department moved away from a fragmented approach to a more integrated one.

“We gave ourselves 20 years to move from no system of coastal management, to an inclusive and fully effective one that is integrated ,” Mayekiso says. “I am absolutely delighted with the ICM Act being shortlisted.”

For the WFC, the act stood out from 31 other policies presented by 22 countries that ranged from marine-protected area programmes, integrated ocean and coastal policies, to laws regulating fisheries, trade in marine products, marine litter and land-sea interactions.

After a comprehensive evaluation process, a short list of seven policies emerged from the initial list, and the ICM Act stood out from the rest. The laws were judged on their ability to provide positive examples and innovative policy approaches, while upholding sustainable management of coastal resources.

Coastal management revisited

The judging panel’s assessment found that through the act, South Africa has managed to address the challenge of promoting human wellbeing, while also maintaining the ecological integrity of its coastlines.

In an effort to offer new ways to manage the activities of people in the coastal zone, the law was drawn up in line with international best practice recommendations to ensure that the country’s coastal resources are utilised sustainably and responsibly.

According to a guide that is available online, the law moves away from being resource centred towards a more people-centred approach in the managing coastal areas.

This approach provides an important shift in people’s thinking towards the shared use of coastal resources, and will teach future generations the benefits of managing these in an ecologically, socially and economically sustainable way.

The act further defines the country’s coastal zone for the first time. According to the guide, the coastal protection zone is established to manage, regulate and restrict the use of land that is adjacent to coastal public property, or that plays a significant role in the coastal ecosystem.

It’s added purpose is to reinstate historic common property rights to the coast that were denied during apartheid as well as preserving, protecting and extending the status of coastal public property.

There is also an emphasis on improved control of certain sources of pollution in the coastal zone, integrated estuarine management, and preventing dumping at sea.

Raising global awareness

The Future Policy Award is unique in that it is the first to celebrate policies rather than people on an international level.

Each year the council chooses a topic that demands urgent policy progress, and this year the focus is on the world’s best ocean and coastal policies.

The 2012 contest further puts a spotlight on ocean conservation and the need for a holistic approach, because the world’s oceans provide food for people, while also acting as sources of income.

From a sustainable environment perspective, oceans provide more than half of the oxygen humans breathe and are home to valuable ecosystems such as coral reefs and marine life.

In deciding the winner for this year’s top prize, the WFC partnered with the UN Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity as well as its Food and Agriculture Organisation, the Global Environment Facility and the Okeanos Foundation for the Sea.

The winning policies will be announced at the United Nations Headquarters in New York later this month.