Salt of the earth: Salt as a driver for social-ecological
change in the communities of the Olifants River estuary
The West Coast of South Africa is a place that one might feel a sense of desolation, however, the harsh environment is one of beauty and richness. This thesis will look at socio-ecological issues linked to the Olifants River Estuary, and the fishing communities of Ebenheaser, more specifically Papendorp, which is situated approximately 350km north of Cape Town.
The issues present can be described in two scales: the first, on a broader ecological scale, the ongoing expansion of mines across the west coast threatens highly biodiverse habitats that support both ecological and human communities. The proposed new mines East and West of the Olifants River Estuary threatens the ecological systems as well as social systems as communities are directly affected by the health of the estuary (Sowman, 2016). The second scale is concerned on a social level as the communities’ struggle to maintain their livelihoods and ways of life as fish stocks within the estuary have been on the decline (Sowman, 2009). This decline has forced the need for secondary forms of income for the communities (Olifants River Estuarine Management plan (v.7), 2017).
In-order to create a holistic understanding of the issues at hand the thesis will aim to map the patterns and processes of the estuary, its catchment and the landscape which it finds itself in through a lens of extraction. It is proposed that through this method, ecologically activated alternatives to mining might be achieved, ones which harnesses the processes of the natural systems and can provide economic relief and resilience for the community of Papendorp.
This intervention also aims to highlight the translation of natural resource extraction towards one of abstraction. Traditionally, many interventions have failed to fully understand the interwoven nature of ecologies and the Anthropocene, this has led to the marginalization of groups (such as small-scale fishers) and the disregard for their cultural heritage and rights to natural resources. This multi-scalar approach aims to include all aspects of the study area, ecological, cultural, social, and economical to create a layered approach that allows for a detailed understanding of the site, its challenges and its opportunities.
It is hoped that through this approach the outcome will allow for a better integration of ecology and conservation with social and economic aspects and therefore produce an intervention that aids in the improvement of both communities and ecologies.