Informing South Africa’s Coastal-Marine Community Conservation policy-Praxis Disjuncture

Wayne Stanley Rice

Community-conserved areas (CCAs) can produce ecological and social outcomes. However, whilst South Africa has enabling legislation, no coastal-marine CCAs have been declared to date. Therefore, my colleagues (Merle Sowman and Maarten Bavinck) and I explored this policy-praxis disjuncture using a ‘commons’ perspective in a recent paper in Biological Conservation.  Commons research has significantly contributed to the design and management of diverse community-based initiatives characterized by challenges emerging from multiple and diverse users and interests. Accordingly, we reviewed the global, African, and South African literature to produce an initial set of common ‘enablers’ for these initiatives. Thereafter, we refined this list using semi-structured key informant interviews to provide an updated and nationally-specific set of ‘enablers’. 

Key Findings

This study highlighted key constraints, and reinforced the importance of a number of ‘enablers’ required to pursue community-based conservation (CBC) in South Africa. However, in accordance with other commons researchers we acknowledge the complexity of managing ‘commons’, and therefore, proposing a list of ‘enablers’, due to the number of relevant elements and their highly context-specific and interactional nature. That said, we identified several key ‘enablers’ that emerged, including the necessity for streamlined institutional processes, most notably, much improved land claims processes. Respondents noted this was the result of the unclear articulation of legislation with regard to CBC, the overlapping provisions in the conservation legislation with other laws, and the lack of clarity regarding responsible State authorities. On a related note, findings emphasized that CCAs in the country require secure rights, and devolved decision-making and management authority with both initial and on-going partner-support. In particular, stronger political will was a constantly identified ‘enabler’. Moreover, CCAs require increased social-ecological alignment, and the presence of self-motivated champions/ key players to drive institutional processes, establish and maintain community ‘buy-in’, and facilitate inclusive and equitable participation.


As one respondent noted, “communities are motivated, and CBC can work”. However, our research shows that issues related to political will, devolution of rights, community participation, and socio-ecological alignment of initiatives, persist. These will be familiar to many conservation social scientists around the world. Therefore, this will require efforts to strengthen and improve factors and conditions currently still constraining South African CBC efforts. In doing so coastal-marine conservation in the country may better meet the needs of people and reduce biodiversity loss, which is the objective the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework’s. Finally, insights should be considered highly applicable to other national sectors, as well as of relevance to regional and global CBC initiatives facing similar challenges in their attempts to translate ‘people-centred’ conservation policy into practice, especially those fulfilling obligations to the post- 2020 GBF

  • Research was completed while enrolled in doctoral studies at the Department of Environmental & Geographical Sciences, University of Cape Town, South Africa; and Amsterdam Institute of Social Science Research, University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands.
  • This blog post is based upon research recently published in Biological Conservation: Rice W. S., Sowman M. R., & Bavinck M. (2021). Informing a conservation policy-praxis disjuncture: A ‘commons’ perspective to tackling coastal-marine community-conserved area implementation in South Africa. Biological Conservation, 261, 109296.