The use of spatial analysis and participatory approaches in strategic environmental assessment (SEA) : identifying and predicting the ecological impacts of development on the KwaZulu-Natal North Coast of South Africa.
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The high pressures for coastal development, translated as prolific land cover transformation, coupled with the weaknesses of management to protect the environment has led to the gradual deterioration of environmental conditions in many coastal areas. Land use decisions in coastal areas are based on opportunities and constraints affected by both biophysical and socio-economic drivers, and hence present one of the main issues integrating the large debate on sustainable development in coastal zones (Lourenço and Machado, 2007: 1). The aim of this study is to investigate the effectiveness of the integration of spatial analysis and participatory approaches in SEA (particularly its ability to identify and predict ecological impacts) on the KwaZulu-Natal north coast of South Africa. The study adopted a conceptual framework based on landscape ecology, which was underpinned within the overarching political ecology framework. The former underscores the importance of integration, while the latter critiques the institutionalization of environmental concerns, which are characterized by inequalities in terms of social and political power and of how problems are defined, mediated and resolved. Hence this conceptual framework was considered appropriate to assess the strategic environmental issues pertaining to the coastal zone on the KwaZulu-Natal north coast. The researcher used participatory methods, primarily focus group discussions (which included venn diagramming, ranking exercises and participatory mapping) which were triangulated with both quantitative and qualitative methods as part of an integrated impact assessment. These relate to the use of semistructured questionnaires which were administered to a purposive sample of six key stakeholder interest groups within the study area. A spatial GIS time series analysis of land use and cover change was employed to determine baseline conditions, changes in the state of key ecosystems, key development drivers and emerging threats. Additionally, a policy and institutional review was undertaken. The analysis revealed that major natural land cover classes are in decline in the study area,within a time period of less than 10 years. The most sensitive ecosystems were found to be grasslands (-19.99%), coastal forest (-40%), wetlands (-37.49%) and secondary dunes (- 21.44%). Furthermore, agriculture and forestry are also indicating severe declines. The reasons attributed to this transformation of land cover are increasingly being linked with economic motives such as individual private land-owner dynamics, tourism growth and development in the area. Furthermore, the policy agendas are clearly economically motivated. These losses signify the cumulative decline in ecosystem goods and services, and could undermine pose risks to the society that relies on them either directly or indirectly. One of the main considerations in this research endeavor was to formulate a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) Framework to inform future ICZM in the study area. SEA is planning with a long-term perspective, with a focus on a spatial rather than a project level, an element that is clearly lacking in the current development scenario of this coastline. It is critical that the SEA Framework advocated in this study include a range of variables that will permit short-term, medium-term and long-term monitoring and evaluation aimed at ensuring sustainable planning in the area.