The MAGIC Project:

Multi-scale adaptations to climate change and social-ecological sustainability in coastal areas



Project Participants: Nelson Mandela University George Sustainability Research Unit, Centre for Environmental Sustainability at University of Exeter (United Kingdom), CIRAD and IRSTEA (France), Resilience Alliance

Study Area: Coastal areas of Eden District Municipality (South Africa), Cornwall (United Kingdom), Languedoc-Rousseilon (France)

Project Duration: 2013 - 2015

Funding: National Research Foundation, Nelson Mandela University George Sustainability Research Unit, Nelson Mandela University Research Management, Belmont Forum

Links: and

Project Objectives:

  1. Using a model of “private proactive adaptation to climate change” this project aims to assess the interactions between: a) the actual risk posed by climate change; b) cognitive factors such as perceived risk and perceived adaptive capacity; c) adaptations; and d) situated learning when decisions makers participate in modelling processes.
  2. We assess the relationship between these drivers and adaptation plans in coastal areas at three scales: individual decision makers; local communities of practice; and regional planning authorities.
  3. Findings will directly inform and support adaptation decision making in coastal areas, add to current knowledge on vulnerability and adaptation, and facilitate learning and appreciation of feedbacks in adaptation responses.





Post-doctoral fellow:  Dr Yashwant Rawat

Study area: Garden Route, Western Cape

Duration: 2016-2017

Project objectives:  

  • Screen out the biomass applications for local use and scaling up the beneficiation by finding a niche market.

  • Assess the niche markets for invasive alien plants biomass use including environmental benefits.

  • Value chain development for invasive alien plants biomass use.


Motivation in ecosystem stewardship and the resilience of biodiversity commons- The case of South Africa’s Garden Route



Student: Lisa Heider

Promoter: Prof. Christo Fabricius

Study Area: Garden Route, Western Cape

Duration: 2014 - 2016

Funding: National Research Foundation

Project objectives: 

My project aims to explore the role of different motivations in ecosystem stewardship and their influence on the social and ecological requirements that build the resilience of a biodiversity common. I target individual members of the public who show a committed and pro-active concern for biodiversity and ecological support systems in the Garden Route.  I am using a mixed-method research approach, including photo-voice, in-depth interviews, informal communication, observations and empirical literature reviews in order to (1) stimulate individual’s reflection of their sense of place and sources of motivation for stewardship, (2) investigate the social-ecological consequences of their behaviours and (3) estimate the impact on resilience.

  • Progress: This far 30 research participants, 750 photographs
  • Preliminary findings: Intentions and motivations in stewardship are driven by different  identities which emerge along a gradient of scale (ie. from narrow definition of self, to a predominantly social or ecological identity, to a cohesive social-ecological identity and to a holistic spiritual or biospheric identity)
  • Preliminary findings: The impact of stewardship on the social-ecological community manifests on a temporal scale (short-term versus long-term) and on a contextual scale (narrow versus holistic), and seems to be explained by the different identities ecosystem stewards hold.
  • Preliminary findings: Intentions and motivations for holistic and long-term impacts on the social-ecological community enhance the resilience of the biodiversity common, and are mainly driven by holistic spiritual and biospheric identities. Intentions and motivations for narrow and short-term impacts constrain resilience and are driven by narrow self-definitions of stewards.
  • Highlights: field trips with ‘underestimated ecosystem stewards’: subsistence fishing ladies from Sedgefield, Rastafarians from Knysna and leader of Griqua Kranshoek community.
  • Highlight: In-depth case study of Precious Tree Project in Wilderness Heights



Linking social networks and social capital to ecological infrastructure


Project Participants: Council for Scientific and Industrial Research; Nelson Mandela University George Sustainability Research Unit; World Wide Fund for Nature; South African National Biodiversity Institute

Study Area: Eden District Municipality

Project Duration: 2013 – 2015

Funding: Water Research Commission

Project Objectives:

  1. Provide opportunities for knowledge exchange, reflection and learning about the role of ecological infrastructure and social governance amongst the various relevant social and ecological projects, case studies and initiatives in the region.
  2. Use these learning interactions and engagement with role-players to identify and map key risk social and ecological hotspots where both the likelihood and consequence of risks are high – including an assessment of capacity to manage them.
  3. At a finer scale within selected risk hotspots, identify and quantify the ecological infrastructure most needed to enhance resilience and reduce the associated risks.
  4. Explore and pilot mechanisms for enhancing the social governance needed to effectively implement these shared responses.
  5. Based on the southern Cape study, make recommendations and raise awareness regarding the utility of linking the concepts of social governance and ecological infrastructure for building resilient landscapes.



Promoting systemic and adaptive governance in conservation: a national protected area expansion project

The aim is to promote learning from theory and practice, to provide insight and promote systemic adaptive landscape scale governance through a network of low-cost expanded PA’s.

Student: Samantha McCulloch

Promotor/s: Peter Novellie and Dirk Roux

Study Area: Associated GEF 5 projects in Western Cape, Northern Cape, Eastern Cape

Duration: 2017 – 2019

Funding: SANParks; GEF 5 programme

Project Objectives:

  1. How can the theory on network governance and landscape scale conservation inform effective and sustainable governance for the expanded national network of protected areas, to sustain past the donor funding cycle?
  2. What can we learn from past and current South African stewardship initiatives?
  3. How can social network analysis and facilitation of common goal setting, develop and influence the governance of the GEF 5-SA project?




Collaborative decision support systems to prioritize invasive plant management in the Garden Route, South Africa.

Student: Current Masunungure

Promotor/s:: Prof. Christo Fabricius, Dr. Anton de Wit

Study Area: Eden District

Duration: 2017 - 2019

Funding: Department of Environmental Affairs

Project Objectives:

  1. To identify stakeholders and ecological units (‘peoplescapes’) relevant to invasive plant management in the Garden Route.
  2. To characterise the current decision making for IAP management and identify its strength and weaknesses.
  3. To design and propose a model based invasive alien plant management decision support system application. (Based on the building blocks of the previous objectives) To identify finer-scaled hotspots within catchments for priority adaptive management activities
  4. To identify finer-scaled hotspots within catchments for priority adaptive management activities.


    Social-ecological systems approaches to integrated water management: The Swartkops Estuary as a laboratory




Student: Zanele Hartmann

Promotor/s:: Prof. Christo Fabricius and Dr. Gavin Snow

Study Area: Swartkops Estuary, Port Elizabeth, Eastern Cape

Duration: 2017 - 2021


Project Objectives:

  1. Describe the current management system of the estuary;
  2. Assess the views of local stakeholders, and authorities (policy makers ) policy implementers about the management system; 
  3. Evaluate the consequences, for human well-being and ecosystem services, of the current management system;
  4. and co-develop a novel, transformative management system with stakeholders;
  5. and Evaluate its legitimacy acceptability and practicability.


The suitability of remote sensing for prioritising management of invasive plants in the Garden Route, South Africa

Student: Rosie Gerolemou

Promotor/s: Prof. Christo Fabricius, Prof. Dirk Roux and Dr Heidi van Deventer (CSIR)

Study Area: Garden Route, Western Cape

Duration: 2 years

Funding: NRF, Nelson Mandela University PGRS & DEA

Project Objectives:

  1. To spatially locate invasive tree species in the Garden Route.
  2. To formulate prioritisation criteria for the management of invasive tree species.
  3. To apply these prioritisation criteria to identify priority areas for invasive tree species management.



Adapting to climate change in South Africa: Dairy farmers' perception of and response to a changing climate

Student: Sibonokuhle Nontongana

Promotor/s: Supervisor: Prof Christo Fabricius Co-supervisor: Bianca Currie

Study area: Tsitsikamma

Duration of the project: 2 years


  1. Review the vulnerability of South African dairy farms to climate change, the likely impacts of climate change, and climate-related risks on their farming systems.
  2. Investigate the farmer’s perception about potential contribution of dairy farming practices to climate change, and examine how to mitigate these contributions.
  3. Develop a framework to evaluate the potential adaptation strategies


Assessing mandated organization capacity to implement eco-innovation strategies in the Garden Route, South Africa

Student: Samantha Mc Culloch

Promotor/s: Prof. Christo Fabricius and Dr. Dirk Roux

Study Area: Garden Route, Western Cape

Duration: 2013 – 2014

Funding: Water Research Commission and National Research Foundation Scarce-Skills Scholarship



Media and communication influences on farmers' views of water conservation in the Garden Route, South Africa


Student: Thea Buckle

Promotor/s: Prof. Christo Fabricius and Dr. Janina Wozniak

Study Area: Garden Route, Western Cape

Duration: 2014 - 2015

Funding: Water Research Commission; Nelson Mandela University PGRS



A case study of human-baboon co-habitation on NMMU George Campus, South Africa


Student: Peet Botes

Promotor/s: Dr. Corli Coetsee and Prof. Christo Fabricius

Study Area: Nelson Mandela University George Campus

Duration: 2013 - 2014



Plant survival in relation to microcatchments in a Nama-Karoo riparian ecosystem restoration trial


Student: Andrew Jackson

Promotor/s: Dr. Ben Wigley and Dr. Sue Milton-Dean

Study Area: Sakrivierspoort Farm , Loxton, Northern Cape

Duration: 2013 - 2014

Funding: Endangered Wildlife Trust, Nelson Mandela University Faculty of Science and Fairfield



Influence of stakeholder identities on benefit sharing related to use of the Wilderness and Swartvlei lake systems


Student: Aneri Vlok

Promotor/s: Prof Janine Adams & Dr Dirk Roux

Duration: 2012 – 2013

Study Area: Wilderness and Swartvlei Lakes

Funding: Water Research Commission



Determining the extent to which ecological infrastructure is considered during the process of planning and development in the Eden Coastal District


Student: Abigail Crisp                                                          

Promotor/s: Prof. Christo Fabricius and Dr. Dirk Roux

Study Area: Garden Route, Western Cape

Duration: 2013 – 2014

Funding: National Research Foundation Innovation Scholarship




Exploring Different Approaches in the Prioritisation of Protected Areas: A Case Study in the Western Cape of South Africa


To use the conversion process in the Southern Cape to provide a comparison of two differing prioritisation techniques. More specifically, stakeholder-based and quantitative approaches.

Student: Kate Southey

Promotor/s: Prof Graham Kerley

Study Area: Garden Route

Duration: 2013 - 2014

Funding: Faculty of Science, Sustainability Research Unit and Zoology Department



Historic trends in recreational angling catches reported in local newspapers (1940–2012)


Collaborators: Jaco Barendse, Kyle Smith (SANParks), Stefan Oosthuizen, Duane Roberts

Project Objectives:

  1. Identify the major ‘trophy’ fish species in the Garden Route region from articles and photographs in the local press;
  2. Identify any trends in reporting of the species, frequency, and size;
  3. Relate this to known trends in stock status and possible perceptions about historic baselines.




Various aspects relating to the Sustainable Seafood in South Africa


Collaborators:  Jaco Barendse, SANBI, WWF

Project Objectives:

  1. Document and examine the development of the Sustainable Seafood Movement (Sustainable Seafood Initiatives and fishery Eco-labels) over the past decade in South Africa;
  2. Develop commentary and guidelines on seafood trade names and labelling practise in the local seafood market
  3. Examine the impacts of certain policies on trawl bycatch management and the influence this may have on legal seafood trade



Molecular analyses of two indigenous estuarine fish species in an isolated coastal lake: implications for the management of exotic ichthyofauna

Collaborators: Nikki Gartrell and Sophie von der Heyden (Stellenbosch University), Jaco Barendse, Kyle Smith (SANParks)

Project Objectives:

  1. Using mtDNA markers we evaluate the conservation importance of isolated populations of the only two native fish species of Groenvlei, Cape silverside and estuarine round herring
  2. This should inform ongoing management interventions to control alien invasive fish, especially common carp, in Groenvlei



Enhancing water security practices in the eastern and southern Cape, South Africa

Project Participants: Nelson Mandela University George Sustainability Research Unit, Rhodes University, University of Fort Hare

Study Area: Eden District Municipality

Project Duration: 2012 – 2014

Funding: National Research Foundation and Department of Science and Technology

Project Objectives:

  1. What is the condition and meaning of “water security” in the designated social-ecological system (two case study sites) at multiple spatial and temporal scales?
  2. How can water security (and water security practices) be enhanced in designated social-ecological systems (two case study sites) at multiple spatial and temporal scales?
  3. How can the gap between theory and management be reduced to increase human and ecological well-being in the designated catchments?



Invasive alien vegetation management, resilience and strategic adaptive  management in South African National Parks


Student: Wynand Loftus

Supervisor: Prof Christo Fabricius

Duration: 2012 – 2013

Study Area: SANParks; experts in alien vegetation research

Funding: National Research Foundation



Learning and reflection for adaptive co-management of ecosystems

Study Area: Eden District Municipality

Project Participants: Nelson Mandela University George Sustainability Research Unit

Duration: 2011 – 2014

Funding: National Research Foundation

Project Objectives:

  1. Develop the capacity for adaptive co-management of stakeholders in the Working for Water and Working for Wetlands projects through facilitated social learning processes, monitoring them and adapting them to fit the southern Cape context.
  2. Document the strengths and weaknesses of various social learning activities and processes, using participatory learning and action approaches.
  3. Facilitate the application and uptake of this knowledge to improve adaptive co-management of ecosystem services through decision-making tools, manuals, web sites and other instruments to promote social learning in the context of ecosystem repair.
  4. Contribute to theory and practice of community engagement, by coupling theoretical principles of adaptive co-management and social learning with practical ecosystem management interventions.



Southern African Program on Ecosystem Change and Society (SAPECS)

Project Participants: Nelson Mandela University George Sustainability Research Unit; Council for Scientific and Industrial Research; University of Stellenbosch; Rhodes University; various other South African universities; Stockholm Resilience Centre

Study Area: Southern Africa

Duration: On-going


Project Objectives:

  1. Developing a collaborative regional research program around social-ecological and ecosystem service research in Southern Africa, and
  2. Strengthening and building a community of practice in this field.



When adaptation isn’t enough: transformations towards earth stewardship in social-ecological systems

Project participants: Nelson Mandela University George Sustainability Research Unit

Funding: Nelson Mandela University

Study Area: Western Cape

Duration: On-going

Funder: Nelson Mandela University

Project Objectives:

  1. Merely developing the capacity to adapt and return to a former state is an inappropriate response in the Anthropocene, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa.
  2. We argue for a better understanding of the variables and processes that characterize transformation, i.e. a radical shift in the way problems are being perceived and responded to.
  3. The project is characterized by trans-disciplinarity, adopting a multi-scale approach, using global comparisons and adopting a complex, social-ecological systems 'lens'.



Environmental stewardship in South Africa


Collaborators: Jaco Barendse, Christo Fabricius, Dirk Roux, Bianca Currie

Project Objectives:

  1. Review the application of  the term and concept of environmental stewardship as  an approach to further conservation outcomes and sustainable natural resource management.



Social Learning for public participation in environmental management in the Knysna Municipality, South Africa


Student: Bianca Currie

Promotor: Prof Christo Fabricius

Study Area: Knysna, South Africa

Funding: National Research Foundation