An environmental history of the Mgeni river estuary : a study of human and natural impacts over time.
South African estuaries have high biodiversity value and provide many benefits to society, including food, real estate, a place for recreation and economic enterprise. However, they are facing growing human pressures such as urban encroachment, development in river catchments and interference in hydrological cycles. This dissertation provides an exploratory study of the environmental history of the Mgeni River Estuary, KwaZulu-Natal in an attempt to improve the understanding of the forces that drive environmental change. Through the application of the techniques and methodologies of environmental history, it explores the dynamics, characteristics and impacts of human interaction with the Mgeni River Estuary over time. It focuses on the emergence of a capitalist! industrial society in the twentieth century as this period has been characterised by the most significant environmental alteration and degradation. With the aid of the techniques and methodologies employed, the study highlights a complexity of natural and human events that have altered the estuary over time. Comparative analysis of aerial photographs between 1937 and 1996 reveals that physical changes to the estuary were linked to prevalent social and economic activities. The study describes cultural beliefs, modes of resource use and the political economy as significant and interwoven factors that facilitate environmentally intrusive activities. The study has provided insights into the complexity of factors that influence the rate and extent of change of an estuarine system. It concludes that to improve the understanding of the causes of environmental change, it is necessary to look further than the physical impacts on the environment to the attitudes and beliefs that underlie them. While the solutions to the problems facing the Mgeni River Estuary are not easily at hand, such analysis should assist policy makers and managers in finding a way to initiate more sustainable estuarine development in the future.
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