South Africa’s diverse coastal and marine environments are a valuable resource, providing recreation and pleasure for residents and tourists alike. In addition, these resources are of great biological and economic value to the country.

What Are Coasts?

  • The coast is a unique part of South Africa’s environment; it is a meeting place of land and sea.
  • Coasts are extremely dynamic and complex areas. They include many different creatures and ecosystems, ranging from microscopic organisms to insects, shellfish, fish, plants, animals and birds. Many of the interactions between natural processes and human activities in coastal areas are not always well understood.
  • Our coast extends for about 3 000 km from the border with Namibia to Mozambique. It links the east and west coasts of Africa and connects our continent to the Indian, Atlantic and Southern oceans.
  • There is no single definition of the coastal zone. As a practical matter, local, municipal, provincial, and national governments all may use different definitions of coastal zone. In addition, different pieces of legislation and international treaties may define coastal zone differently.
  • The coast is generally accepted to be the area of land that directly influences or is influenced by the sea. The coast can be defined as an area with a landward and a seaward boundary that includes:
    • coastal waters, which extend from the low water mark into the sea, up to the point where these waters are no longer influenced by land and land-associated activities
    • the coastline or sea shore, which is the area between the low and high water marks
    • coastlands, which are inland areas above the high water mark that influence or are influenced in some way by their proximity to coastal waters (these areas may stretch many kilometres inland)
  • The coastal areas of South Africa host a range of diverse ecosystems including water catchment areas, rocky shores, sandy beaches, coastal forests, mangrove habitats, coastal dunes, wetlands, estuaries and lagoons, mud flats, kelp forests, and coral reefs. The environmental impacts of development on each of these coastal environments will vary.
  • A variety of landward and seaward boundaries have been used to define the coast for different activities in South Africa (Figure 1 below). Provincial and local government will define specific coastal boundaries on an issue-by-issue basis, depending on their areas of jurisdiction and management goals.

Why Are Coasts Important?

Coastal ecosystems provide a range of direct and indirect benefits to us.

  • Direct benefits include subsistence food production and commercial food production (fishing and agriculture), raw materials (mining), Transportation, Recreation, Tourism, and aesthetic value (seafront property turnover).
  • Indirect benefits or ecosystem services that are used but not paid for include, erosion control, soil formation, water regulation and supply, nutrient cycling, biological control, habitats, pollination, climate regulation, genetic resource, gas regulation, existence value. The coast and its adjacent areas on and off shore are an important part of a local ecosystem as the mixture of fresh water and salt water in estuaries provides many nutrients for marine life. Salt marshes andbeaches also support a diversity of plantsanimals, and insects crucial to the food chain.
  • The estimated value of the direct benefits obtained from coastal goods and services is about 35% of our annual Gross Domestic Product. Indirect benefits are estimated at an additional 28% of the GDP.
  • Over 33% of South Africa’s population lives in coastal areas. Economic growth is fastest in South Africa’s four major coastal cities – Cape Town, Port Elizabeth, East London and Durban.
  • Coastal areas host a variety of human activities (Table 1 below), many of which can be conflicting. Careful and innovative planning and management of the coastal areas is therefore essential.

Table 1: Activities Supported in Coastal Areas

Extractive Industries

  • Mining (diamond and titanium)
  • Dredging


  • Agricultural crops
  • Grazing
  • Intensive animal production


  • Commercial Fishing
  • Recreational Fishing
  • Subsistence Fishing
  • Bait Collecting
  • Aquaculture/Mariculture


  • Wood for Building Industries
  • Wood for energy
  • Wood Products


  • Industrial Goods
  • Goods for domestic consumption or export
  • Chemicals, including medical drugs, paints, plastics, etc.

Oil, Gas And Offshore Engineering

  • Oil and gas exploration/exploitation
  • Petroleum production

Tourism And Recreation

  • Resort and tourism facilities Development
  • Boating (sail boats, power boats, jet skis, paddle boats)
  • Surfing
  • Swimming, Snorkelling and SCUBA Diving
  • Hiking/Camping
  • Bird Watching
  • Whale/Shark Diving
  • Golfing
  • Parasailing


  • Production of Electricity, Gas, Water and Wind
  • Processing and Disposing of Wastes (liquid and solid)
  • Social Services (Education, Health)

Transport And Its Related Infrastructure

  • Roads
  • Railways
  • Shipping
  • Ports
  • Airports


  • Residential Development
  • Commercial Developments

How Are Coasts Affected By Developments?

  • Developments can affect the way a coast functions. The type of development and the scale of the development will impact on the coastal area. All the benefits related to the functions mentioned above will be impacted on and could either be reduced or lost.
  • Although coastal ecosystems are resilient, they are finite and vulnerable to over-exploitation, pollution from both marine and land-based sources and damage from improper and unplanned land use and development.
  • Inappropriate decisions can result in degraded coastal resources and lost development opportunities. For instance, a bridge built across an estuary can disrupt the natural ecosystem functioning. Degraded coastal ecosystems that are no longer functioning properly can result in the exposure of human life and property to high risk, for example, through flooding or storm damage.

How To Consider Coasts In The EIA Process?

  • South Africa’s coastal areas are diverse in terms of physical, social, economic, political and institutional characteristics. Different management responses are therefore required at provincial, regional and local levels according to the context.
  • The impacts of developments or activities in the coastal area should typically be investigated in a holistic, integrated and coordinated way by specialists. A coordinated approach to coastal management acknowledges that the coast is a system and that different human uses of coastal resources are interdependent.
  • A multiplicity of policy and legislation is applicable in the coastal area including the Constitution Act (108 of 1996); the White Paper on Sustainable Coastal Development (2000), the Marine Living Resources Act (18 of 1998), the Environment Conservation Act (73 of 1989), the National Environmental Management Act (107 of 1998) and the development Facilitation Act (67 of 1995), the Sea Shore Act (21 of 1935), and the Maritime Zones Act of 15 of 1994.
  • In addition a range of other national legislation, provincial laws and ordinances as well as local authority by-laws are relevant to the coast for example, legislation relating to local government restructuring, development planning, heritage, disaster management, natural resource management, water, biodiversity, mining, transport, energy and pollution control.
  • The Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism (DEAT) has introduced regulations to control potentially harmful activities to the coastal environment, such as earthworks, dune stabilisation and dredging, within demarcated sensitive coastal areas (SCAs).
  • Local authorities administer the regulations if private landowners are applying for permits, but local authorities themselves have to apply to the relevant provincial department for a permit if they wish to undertake activities covered by SCA regulations.