An analysis of the perceptions surrounding the re-zoning of the Tsitsikamma Marine Protected Area

Master Thesis


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Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) are an increasingly important tool for sustainable marine governance. However, their effectiveness is improved if designed to consider how people value and interact with coasts and marine resources designated for protection. This research critically examines the different perceptions of stakeholders towards the rezoning of Africa’s oldest MPA, the Tsitsikamma National Park (TNP) MPA. In South Africa, MPAs created prior to 1994 under the Apartheid regime disregarded local communities’ rights to the coast and in some cases removed or restricted access, with no consultation. In December 2016 the TNP MPA was rezoned from a 'no-take’ MPA to a partially open protected area with the aim of readdressing historical exclusion and to provide managed access and benefits to adjacent communities. This thesis explores the perceptions of different stakeholders to the rezoning process and the underlying values, worldviews and beliefs that influence these perceptions. The research also examines the nature of participation in the rezoning process, including issues of representation, trust and legitimacy. Data collection is based primarily on 55 semi structured key informant interviews from the nine different communities adjacent to the Tsitsikamma MPA, scientists, NGO and government officials, as well as a focus group with eight representatives from South African National Parks. Data sources are supplemented with census and mapping information, field observations and a participatory film project. Findings from this research identified and examined the diverse perceptions of stakeholders about the re-zoning and highlighted how different groups have very different perceptions about the benefits of the rezoning for either marine conservation objectives or community economic, livelihood and wellbeing aspirations. What emerged clearly was that perceptions are influenced by values, worldviews and beliefs and that failure to recognize and incorporate these perceptions in planning, discussions and decision-making leads to ongoing contestation and conflict. The research thus highlights the challenge of balancing community rights and needs with conservation goals in a rapidly changing marine context, and highlights that understanding different perceptions and values that underlie these perceptions and providing the space to allow these different views to be shared is important for collaborative governance of MPAs in South Africa. Based on an enhanced understanding of perceptions, recommendations are made regarding the importance of recognizing and incorporating perceptions in planning and decision-making and promoting greater participation in governance.