Preliminary coastal vulnerability assessment for KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa

Palmer, B.J., van der Elst, R.P., MacKay, C.F., Mather, A.A., Smith, A.M., Bundy, S.C., Thackeray, Z., Leuci, R. & Parak, O. 2011: Preliminary coastal vulnerability assessment for KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. Journal of Coastal Research, Special Issue 64: 1390-1395.


The KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) coast is a popular tourist zone and therefore one of the most important assets underpinning the economic activities of this South African Province. As with many coastal regions, the disproportionately large human settlement at the coast has led to increased pressure on the coastal zone. Development increases bio-physical changes, leading to an escalation in environmental risks affecting coastal populations, infrastructure and natural coastal environments. The events induced by a rapidly changing climate added to coastal zone development potentially introduce synergistic negative responses that might or might not be predictable. Therefore there is a need to develop methods that assess coastal vulnerability, and determine how best to managed this risk. This paper reports on the development of a technique that investigated the relative coastal vulnerability of the KZN coast to erosion and extreme weather events. A Coastal Vulnerability Index (CVI) was developed based on remotely sensed data whereby a set of physical coastal parameters, which serve as indicators of risk or vulnerability, were captured. The CVI scores were used to rank the coast, based on its relative degree of vulnerability into five classes ranging from very low to very high and highlights what proportion of coast falls within each class. Coastal vulnerability must inform management, thus this assessment attempts to address social, economic and ecological factors by identifying indicators and assessing them in relation to the finding of the CVI to determine what structures and features are within areas of very high CVI scores. The information presented provides input into a decision support tool that will facilitate the effective and user-friendly transfer of this important information.