Research to combat coastal degradation

Building activities added to an overnight collapse of the prime dunes as waves eroded the sea facing gardens of several homes in The Dunes in Wilderness in October 2015. Photo: Pauline Lourens

GEORGE NEWS - The sustainability research unit at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (George campus) will be doing research in Wilderness on people's sense of place, their understanding of environmental risks, and the true meaning of rivers and the coast.
 
House to house interviews with people living on the beachfront will be conducted.
 
The Garden Route is one of three coastal areas globally where this research is being done as part of a three-year project on coastal vulnerability, Project Magic. The other two are Cornwall in the UK and Languedoc in France. Magic - an acronym for 'multiscale adaptations to global change in coastlines' - assesses how to develop the best responses to risk and vulnerability in coastal zones.
 
Researchers have found that top-down blueprint planning, is not enough to manage coastal areas properly. Few such plans look at all the natural and human elements. Therefore different decision makers, researchers and civil society need to work and learn together.
 
Dykes and dolosse
The head of the NMMU, George Sustainability Research Unit, Prof. Christo Fabricius, will be conducting and coordinating the research. He explains that NMMU's environmental research in Eden forms part of international and national long-term research programmes funded by the National Research Foundation and international funding agencies. "What we have learnt so far is that knee-jerk responses don't work and that long-term, forward-looking perspectives are needed. Hard structures such as sea-walls, dolosse or dykes, if not properly planned and constructed, only work for a short while and can provide a false sense of security."
 
Warning
Prof Fabricius said people should know what is coming. "Property owners must rather build as far and as high as possible from the water, avoid putting up structures that create new risks for neighboring properties by simply deflecting water their way, and maintain as much natural tree and shrub cover between their properties and the high water mark or floodplain of the river or wetland as possible. We need to realize that dunes and natural vegetation are nature's infrastructure and should be left undisturbed.
 
The project is a collaboration between NMMU's Sustainability Research Unit; Arizona State University in the US; University of Exeter in the UK, and three French research institutions, funded under a global consortium, the Belmont Forum.
 
The George municipality and SANParks support the research and will also contribute information. Residents who participate will do so voluntarily and anonymously.
 
In October 2015, The Dunes in Wilderness took a serious pounding through a combination of high seas, on-shore wind and environmental degradation caused by buildings erected on prime dunes.
 
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