The purpose of this paper is to critically examine how the city applies natural science findings within the context of influential socio-economic complexities, pressures and imperatives. These challenges are discussed as well as the methodology employed by the city to align prescriptions based on scientific investigation with the governance of one of South Africa’s largest coastal cities.

The paper describes the challenges that the city’s management has faced in developing a practical and workable solution; i.e., one that achieves a balance between socio-economic needs whilst promoting an ecosystems based management approach. Key to this discussion is spatial planning and the concept of space.

The authors highlight the challenges of applying absolute boundaries (as a representation of absolute space) to demarcate static zones within the context of complex and dynamic social-ecological systems. This process is examined through the City of Cape Town’s proposed Coastal Protection Zone.

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