What are Coastal Zones & Conservation Areas?

One of South Africa’s biggest strengths lies in its natural beauty and ecological diversity. Whether it’s for surfing competitions or summer holidays, people all over the world flock to South Africa to take in the pristine waters and golden beaches while they soak up the sun. And it’s not just a tourist attraction. Many locals also like to head down to the beach every now and then and make the most of their idyllic surroundings. It sounds pretty perfect, but inheriting such a wonderful environment also comes with a lot of responsibility. It’s up to us to ensure that our picturesque nation stays that way and to manage our collective impact accordingly. In lieu of all this, the government has created quite a lot of ordinances to keep things running smoothly. But that fact raises a few important questions, for instance – What does the law say about coastal zones? Why are they so important? And how are they defined anyway? What are Coastal Zones & Conservation Areas?

The amended Integrated Coastal Management Act (ICM) defines a Coastal Zone as any area which is made up of the following – 

  • Coastal public property
  • The coastal protection zone
  • Coastal access land and coastal protected areas
  • The seashore
  • Coastal waters and the exclusive economic zone
  • Any aspect of the environment on, in, under, or above such an area

On the other hand, a Conservation Area would normally fall under the purview of the Protected Areas Act and could be described as – 

  • An area set aside and managed to conserve indigenous flora, fauna, ecosystems, natural resources and other natural phenomena

Neither definition is particularly pithy but at least we now have a basic understanding of the terms.

What are Coastal Zones & Conservation Areas?
What are Coastal Zones & Conservation Areas?

What does the Coastal Management Act Protect?

The ICM is intended to conserve and protect the country’s coastal areas as defined above while also preserving inherent features of coastal landscapes and seascapes. 

It also ensures that the utilisation and development of these areas and their natural resources is done in a manner that is socially and economically justifiable while also remaining ecologically sustainable.

Put simply, the ICM protects and manages the country’s coastal zones in various ways, which might include things like limiting pollution or curtailing inappropriate development.

What is a Coastal Zone Management Plan?

Most coastal provinces around the country have developed their own management plans and bylaws which act in accordance with the ICM. 

While the ICM gives fairly broad guidelines about the maintenance and preservation of the country’s coastal zones, the coastal zone management plans give more specific details which help to direct everything ranging from the erection of infrastructure near the province’s coast, to drainage and tourism development. 

Why is Coastal Protection Important?

As noted by section 17 of the act, coastal protection involves a series of vital measures which seek to protect both the environment, as well as the people and infrastructure which exist near the coastline. 

For the most part, coastal protection zones are identified and regulated to maintain the value and ecological functioning of coastal public property.  These areas are considered to be the common property of the South African people and, as such, development can be regulated or restricted to maintain them.

For example, ports, jetties, and detached breakwaters can interfere with littoral transport which can exacerbate coastal erosion. To ensure the continued survival of the coastlines, this kind of construction may be limited by those in power. Alternatively, coastal protection can involve the construction of things like sea walls and piers to dampen some of the natural effects that contribute to coastal erosion. 

There are many other ancillary reasons for coastal protection, but its main purpose is to protect and maintain the ecology of the country’s coastlines while simultaneously safeguarding people and structures from certain risks such as sea-level rise. 

What are Coastal Zones & Conservation Areas?
What are Coastal Zones & Conservation Areas?

Why are Coasts Important Economically?

The economic value of our coasts is difficult to understate. The commerce that either results from, or is facilitated by, the coasts can effectively be described as the lifeblood of the South African economy. 

This value can be found in a plethora of trades and businesses, but we can divide them broadly into 3 main categories – Maritime trade, Natural Resources, and the Hospitality Industry. 

Maritime Trade – It’s estimated that a whopping 96% of South Africa’s imports and exports are accomplished using sea transportation. Entire cities and flourishing industries have been set up in the shadow of the country’s maritime commerce. Without viable coasts that can facilitate this kind of trade, it’s hard to imagine that South Africa would be able to properly function for very long at all. Conversely, improvements to the country’s maritime transport sector could see contributions to economic growth exceeding R56.5 billion
Natural Resources – Another massive factor to be considered when calculating the value of the coasts is that of fishing. Immediately, we may begin to think of the commercial fishing industry which generates billions of rands in revenue each year and directly employs 10’s of thousands of workers. However, we must also consider the realms of subsistence and recreational fishing which, likewise, provide an enormous amount of value each year. 
Another steadily-growing industry is that of mariculture/aquaculture. Simply put, these ‘ocean farms’ allow individuals to cultivate marine organisms in enclosures rather than going out and fishing for them each day. Mussel, oyster and abalone farms are progressively growing in size and popularity and continue to generate economic growth throughout the coastal areas of the country. 
Hospitality Industry – Anyone who’s been to a city like Durban or Cape Town will be able to appreciate the role of the hospitality sector in South African life. Beyond the hotels and restaurants that speckle the coastlines, there are also a wide array of B&Bs and tourist attractions that depend on the natural beauty of the seashore or draw in both locals and foreign visitors. 

Other economic benefits can include things like coastal mining and energy development with respect to things like oil and gas. While these sectors may not be as vital as the others mentioned, they still contribute to the economy in their own right and are expected to grow over time. 

All in all, there are few areas of South Africa with as much commercial profit and potential as the coastal zones. Although headlines tend to focus on the ecological benefit of these areas, there is usually a massive economic benefit to them as well which requires just as much regulation and management. 

What are Coastal Zones & Conservation Areas?
What are Coastal Zones & Conservation Areas?

In Conclusion – What are Coastal Zones and Conservation Areas and Why are they so Important?

The Integrated Coastal Management Act (ICM) defines a coastal zone as an area made up of  – 

  • Coastal public property
  • The coastal protection zone
  • Coastal access land and coastal protected areas
  • The seashore
  • Coastal waters and the exclusive economic zone
  • Any aspect of the environment on, in, under, or above such an area

Meanwhile, conservation areas are normally described as zones set aside and managed for the conservation of certain fauna, flora, ecological systems, etc. 

The ICM and the Protected Areas Act are intended to safeguard and oversee these areas and may take action which comports with this agenda. This may include anything from restricting pollution to controlling the development of infrastructure in the area. Additionally, the ICM ensures that such development, and the use of natural resources in coastal zones, is conducted in a manner that is ecologically sustainable and socio-economically justifiable. 

Different provinces in South Africa tend to develop their own coastal zone management plans which essentially function as bylaws that act in accord with the ICM. 

While the ICM gives broad guidelines and regulations with regard to the coastal zones, the management plans tackle more niche issues such as the regulation of specific infrastructure development, drainage, tourism, etc. 

The importance of coastal zone protection can be seen from two different, but equally important, viewpoints. 

On one hand, coastal public property belongs to the people of South Africa collectively, and thus, it should have its ecological beauty and value preserved on their behalf. Numerous natural and man-made phenomena can lead to coastal erosion if left unchecked – which means that certain measures must be taken to prevent or at least mitigate the damage. 

Alternatively, one can look at the vast commercial benefit offered by the coastal zones to effectively gauge their importance. 

The overwhelming majority of the country’s trade occurs via sea transportation, additionally, the hospitality and fishing industries are dependent on the continuation of the seashore’s natural beauty and ecological diversity. 

To ensure that the future of South Africa is financially sound, time and resources must be invested into the protection and preservation of its coastlines. 

Disclaimer LAW101: All of our posts are for research purposes only. Law 101 aims to assist its readers with useful information on the laws of our country that can guide you to make decisions in line with the South African Governmental Laws currently in place. Although our posts cite the constitution in many instances, they are intended to assist readers who are looking to expand their knowledge of the law. Should you require specific legal advice we advise you to get in touch with a qualified legal expert.

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