Drive to protect KZN coast

2011-02-16 00:00

DURBAN — The densely built South Coast is the most vulnerable to storms, tsunamis, cyclones and sea-level rise in KZN, according to a new index released yesterday by scientists and the provincial Environmental Affairs Department.

The Coastal Vulnerability Index was compiled over the past two-and-half years by the Oceanographic Research Institute (ORI), following the destructive storms that hit KwaZulu-Natal’s coastline in 2007.

It is the first of its kind in the country, said Environmental Affairs MEC Lydia Johnson during the launch in Durban.

In 2007, the KwaZulu-Natal coast experienced devastating storms and high tides which damaged many properties on the coast and caused massive erosion from north of Cape Vidal to south of Port Shepstone.

Storms, with waves seven metres high, cyclones and floods caused damage worth an estimated R4 billion, of which R3,6 billion happened on the South Coast.

Johnson also launched a guide, Understanding our Coast, which is aimed at all residents and visitors to help them understand the coastline as a unique asset.

The MEC said KZN’s coastline generated goods and services worth R60 billion per year and that the area’s management required an integrated approach.

As part of this approach, she announced measures to deal with coastal erosion and protect ecologically sensitive areas in the province.

“We are launching this initiative to protect our coast. Unless our coast is properly managed, we will lose this priceless treasure,” said Johnson

She added that the popularity of the province exerted pressure on the ecologically sensitive coast.

“While all this [development] contributes to the province’s growth, we must make sure not to kill the goose that lays the golden egg,” she said.

The pressure people exerted on the coast would make them vulnerable to the effects of climate change, sea-level rise and coastal erosion, she added.

The MEC stated that the Coastal Vulnerability Index would be distributed to district municipalities along the coast.

“It enables our coastal managers to better assess the risk and vulnerability of our coast to the potential effects of extreme storms and erosion,” said Johnson.

Aerial photos were used to compile the index, which divides KZN’s 580 km-long coastline into areas of increasing risk, depending on the width of the beaches, the dunes and the plants on them.

The index shows 30% of the coast to be at risk, 47% to be at low risk, and 23% to be at high risk, said Bronwyn Palmer, a scientist with the ORI.

Most of the high-risk areas are on the South Coast.

Palmer warned that the effects of global warming and rising sea levels will increase both the frequency and intensity of storms like the one in 2007.

While the Coastal Vulnerability Index was created to enable municipalities to conduct safer city planning, an Environmental Affairs official said home-owners and insurance companies would also benefit from it.

According to the official, the onus was on coastal home-owners to safeguard their properties against storm damage by, for example, using sandbags. And instead of insurance companies just paying to have storm damaged structures rebuilt where the next storm can damage it again, safer zones should be investigated.

This was how authorities strove to limit future damage when they planned the rebuilding of damaged infrastructure after the 2007 storm.

In very densely populated areas this is not always possible, said Palmer.

Future research will refine the index with updates on the impact future storms have on coastline, she said.

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