Coast KZN

Estuarine Management

National Estuarine Management Protocol

The National Estuarine Protocol presents guidelines for the management of estuaries through the development and implementation of estuarine management plans (EMPs) as required by the National Environmental Management: Integrated Coastal Management Act.

The South African coastline is about 3200 km long. It has 290 estuaries and 42 micro-estuaries classified into 22 estuarine ecosystem types and 3 micro-estuary types (SANBI 2018).

Estuaries are areas of high biodiversity and provide a vast array of environmental and socio-economic goods and services, including flood control, transport of sediments to the marine zone, nursery areas and refugia for fish, subsistence fishing, grass for thatching and crafts, sedges for mats, sand and clay, to name a few. Estuaries often provide nodes for housing and development, which places them at great risk.

Ecological processes in South Africa’s estuaries are under severe pressure, with a reduction in productivity, fisheries, food security, property value and recreation. Estuaries have been greatly modified in terms of both ecosystem types (86% threatened) and area (99% threatened. Only 18% of ecosystem types and 1% of estuarine area are Well Protected, which indicates the need for interventions to restore estuarine health and protect the goods and services estuaries provide.  

Estuarine management is a complex, dynamic process requiring integrated, cross-sectorial planning, since estuaries are influenced by marine, riverine and terrestrial ecosystems. The National Estuarine Management Protocol describes the standards required for estuarine management, who the responsible authority is for developing EMPs and the procedure for developing an EMP.

The National Environmental Management: Integrated Coastal Management Act (Act No. 24 of 2008) (“the ICM Act”) which was promulgated in December 2009, requires estuaries of South Africa to be managed in a co-ordinated and efficient manner, in accordance with a National Estuarine Management Protocol (“the Protocol”). Section 33(2) of the ICM Act empowers the Minister responsible for Environmental Affairs with the concurrence of the Minister responsible for Water Affairs to publish a Protocol that will provide guidance for the management of estuaries through the development and implementation of estuarine management plans (EMPs). The EMPs seek to achieve greater harmony between ecological processes and human activities while accommodating orderly and balanced estuarine resource utilisation. More specifically, in terms of section 33 of the ICM Act, the purpose of the national estuarine management protocol is to:

(a) Determine a strategic vision and objectives for achieving effective integrated management of estuaries;

(b) Set standards for the management of estuaries;

(c) Establish procedures or provide guidance regarding how estuaries must be managed and how the management responsibilities are to be exercised by different organs of state and other parties;

(d) Establish minimum requirements for estuarine management plans;

(e) Identify who must prepare estuarine management plans and the process to be followed in doing so; and

(f) Specify the process for reviewing estuarine management plans to ensure that they comply with the requirements of the ICM Act.

National Strategic Vision and Objectives Photo byKierran Allen

National Strategic Vision and Objectives

The national vision for estuarine management is as follows: The estuaries of South Africa are managed in a sustainable way that benefits the current and future generations.

In order to recognise and effectively manage the unique environmental, economic, and social aspects of each estuary, it is important to establish strategic objectives. The strategic objectives for effective integrated management of estuaries include:

3.2.1 To conserve, manage and enhance sustainable economic and social use without compromising the ecological integrity and functioning of estuarine ecosystems;

3.2.2 To maintain and/or restore the ecological integrity of South African estuaries by ensuring that the ecological interactions between adjacent estuaries; between estuaries and their catchments; and between estuaries and other ecosystems, are maintained;

3.2.3 To manage estuaries co-operatively through all spheres of government; and to engage the private sector/ entities and civil society in estuarine management;

3.2.4 To protect a representative sample of estuaries (such protection could range from partial protection to full protection) in order to achieve overall estuarine biodiversity targets as determined by the 2018 National Biodiversity Assessment and the subsequent updates;

3.2.5 To promote awareness, education and training that relate to the importance, value and management of South African estuaries; and

3.2.6 To minimise the potential detrimental impacts of predicted climate change through a precautionary approach to development in and around estuaries and with regard to the utilisation of estuarine habitat and resources.

More Information


Van Niekerk, L., Adams, J.B., Lamberth, S.J., MacKay, C.F., Taljaard, S., Turpie, J.K., Weerts, S. & Raimondo, D.C., 2019 (eds). South African National Biodiversity Assessment 2018: Technical Report. Volume 3: Estuarine Realm. CSIR report number CSIR/SPLA/EM/EXP/2019/0062/A. South African National Biodiversity Institute, Pretoria. Report Number: SANBI/NAT/NBA2018/2019/Vol3/A.


Download the National Estuarine Manangement Protocol

National Estuarine Management Protocol

Additional information

Find out more about KZN estuaries.

1. What is and estuary?

2. Conservation status of KZN estuaries

What is and estuary?

What is an estuary?

Conservation status of KZN estuaries

Health and conservation