Ecosystem-based adaptive capacity through community engagement


What is Eco-ACE?

The Eco-ACE project is a three-year transdisciplinary project that looks at how one can build adaptive capacity to ocean change at multiple scales by promoting ecosystem-based adaptation and community engagement in three case study areas in South Africa’s southern Benguela marine ecosystem. The project is led by Prof Lynne Shannon and Drs Louise Gammage and Kelly Ortega-Cisneros from the University of Cape Town with collaborators from the University of the Western Cape and Nelson Mandela University. The project is funded by South Africa’s National Research Foundation.

Why is our work important?

Vulnerable coastal communities and users such as small-scale fishers, bait collectors, small businesses (e.g. tour operators and accommodation owners), women and youth remain marginalised and most at risk to climate change and other pressures. The limited implementation of systems-based approaches to management (such as ecosystem-based management) exacerbates the day-to-day challenges experienced by communities, further eroding adaptive capacity. Ecosystem-based management recognises that successful management can only be achieved through inclusive, collaborative and participatory approaches.

Eco-ACE will develop practically implementable, field-tested tools that can increase adaptive capacity at the person, household, and community levels. The co-design and production of tools and interventions is at the core of Eco-ACE, which will empower marginalised communities and build capacity to sustain some interventions beyond the project’s lifetime. It is expected that these participatory approaches can support integrative ocean management in the South African marine landscape.

Figure 1: Process diagram for the Eco-ACE project

Aims and objectives

The overarching aim is to improve the adaptive capacity of vulnerable groups in coastal communities (including small-scale fishers, women, children and youth) to change (including climate change). Eco-ACE aims to create and use a toolbox following a participatory and co-design approach to foster improvement in adaptive capacity.

Local Capacity Building

Build capacity at local level through co-design and collaboration and at regional and national decision-making levels through collaboration.

Knowledge Integration

Integrate social and ecological knowledge into ecosystem models.

Facilitate Communication

Facilitate science and stakeholder engagement and communication interventions with regard to anthropogenic climate change and long-term natural variability.

Our research process

Taking a social-ecological systems approach, we propose two overarching components to the research – a community-based adaptation component and a modelling (largely ecosystem modelling with a participatory component) component.

The community component of the research uses an inductive research strategy and is characterised by an iterative, participative process. The advantage of an inductive research strategy is that it starts off with broad, open-ended questions that are useful in situations where little is known about the local context. This strategy develops an in-depth understanding of complex situations, which can assist collaborative research to appropriately respond to research participants and their contexts.

The modelling component of the research uses regional ecosystem models. Ecosystem models have been extensively used to test the effects of climate change in ecosystems worldwide and in South Africa. We will use a multi-model approach combined with participatory approaches to incorporate small-scale fisheries into ecosystem models and test scenarios co-developed with coastal users and small-scale fishers.

Figure 2: Schematic showing the approach, associated methods, planned outputs and scientific engagement/feedback foci

Where is Eco-ACE working?

tooltip text

St Helena Bay




Blue Water Bay

We are using a case study design and will focus on coastal communities and small-scale fisheries in the southern Benguela to explore the knowledge and experiences of these ocean users within their specific and localised contexts.

Three case study sites have been selected to acknowledge that coastal communities, particularly small-scale fisheries, are not homogenous along the South African coastline.

The Eco-ACE project has three case study sites in the southern Benguela marine Ecosystem (in South Africa) – St Helena Bay and Melkhoutfontein in the Western Cape and Blue Water Bay in the Eastern Cape.