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Academic Staff

Assoc Prof Merle Sowman

Academic Staff

Assoc Prof Merle Sowman

Room: 4.06.1
Tel: 0216502863

Merle Sowman is an Associate Professor and  former Head of the Department of Environmental and Geographical Sciences at UCT.  She obtained her PhD in the field of integrated coastal management from UCT in 1994, and has been involved in research, consulting and teaching in the field of environmental governance with a particular focus on integrated coastal and fisheries governance since 1996. Between 1999 and 2013, she was the Co-Director and then Director of the Environmental Evaluation Unit at UCT, a research, training and consultancy unit that worked on a wide range of environmental and coastal projects and facilitated many professional short courses throughout Africa. Her key areas of expertise include integrated coastal management, governance of small-scale fisheries and coasts at risk, social justice and Marine Protected Area (MPA) management, and her more recent work involves working with coastal communities to assess risks associated with climate change with a view to inform adaptation planning.   

Over the years, Merle Sowman has been involved in a diverse range of research and consulting projects, ranging from integrating sustainability principles into development planning processes in South Africa, through exploring models of governance across a range of natural resource sectors in sub-Saharan Africa to assessing socio-ecological vulnerability and developing adaptation strategies to climate change in the Benguela Current Large Marine Ecosystem region (Angola, Namibia, South Africa). She is also involved in a number of large interdisciplinary, collaborative and comparative research projects in southern Africa, South Asia (Palk Bay) and Canada (Vancouver Island) concerned with the rights and socio-economic needs of coastal communities in different governance contexts, integrating social justice imperatives into  conservation planning and management, building communities from the bottom-up and investigating coastal and fisheries policy and governance reform in South Africa.  She is currently the principal investigator for the South African team on a BRICS partnership project titled “Coastal communities Adaptive and Resilient at the Edge” with research teams in India, China and Brazil. She has served on a number of international committees such as the expert consultation on Human dimensions of EAF and a review committee for Technical Guidelines on Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) for UN FAO and is currently a member of the Scientific Steering Committee of Future Earth Coast. A/Prof Sowman is a member of UCT’s Social Responsiveness Committee and is committed to incorporating the principles and approaches of social responsiveness into her research work.   

Current Research Projects

  • Project Partner: One Ocean Hub. Interdisciplinary multi-institutional GCRF project led by Strathclyde University (2019-2024)
  • Project Leader: Adaptation planning for climate change training workshop for stakeholders in South Africa, Namibia and Angola. Funded by UN FAO. (2019)
  • Project Leader: Developing climate change adaptation plans within small-scale fisheries communities of the Benguela region. Collaboration with University of Namibia and Development Workshop in Angola. Funded by GEF. (2018-2019)
  • Project leader: Building capacity to understand and address climate change vulnerabilities of fisheries-dependent coastal communities in the Benguela Current Large Marine Ecosystem. Funded by UN FAO (2017)
  • Project leader: Coastal communities adaptive and resilient at the edge. BRICS Multilateral Joint Science and Technology Research Collaboration. Funded by the National Research Foundation (NRF). (2018-2020) 
  • Project leader: Climate change vulnerabilities of coastal fishing communities in the Benguela Current Large Marine Ecosystem (BCLME). Funded by UNFAO. (2014-2016)
  • Project team member: Community Conservation Research Network (CCRN). Collaborative research project with St. Mary’s University, Halifax and other universities in Canada, Asia, Africa and South America as well as community organisations and NGOs. Funded by SSHRC, Canada. (2013 – 2018)


  • Sowman M and R Wynberg (eds) 2014. Governance for Justice and Environmental Sustainability. Lessons across Natural Resources Sectors in Sub-Saharan Africa. Earthscan from Routledge.

Chapters in Books

  • Scholtens J, Song AM, Stephen J, Garcia Chaves C, Bavinck M and M Sowman. 2019. Chapter 17: Transdisciplinary Engagement to Address Transboundary Challenges for Small-Scale Fishers. In: Chuenpagdee R and S Jentoft (Eds). Small-Scale Fisheries Governance: Transdisciplinary Analysis and Practices.
  • Sowman M. 2017. Turning the tide: Strategies, innovation and transformative learning at the Olifants estuary, South Africa. In: Armitage, D. Berkes, F., and Charles, A. (Eds.). Governing the Coastal Commons: Communities, Resilience and Transformation. Earthscan Routledge, 288p.
  • Sowman M. 2015. Governability challenges facing small-scale fishers living adjacent to Marine Protected Areas in South Africa. In: Jentoft S and R Chuenpagdee (eds). Interactive governance for small-scale fisheries: Global reflections. MARE Publication Series 13. Springer. 
  • Sowman M and R Wynberg. 2014. Governance, equity and sustainability in sub-Saharan Africa. An Introduction to the discourse. In: Sowman M and R Wynberg (eds). Governance for Justice and Environmental Sustainability. Lessons across Natural Resources Sectors in Sub-Saharan Africa. Earthscan from Routledge.
  • Sowman M, Raemaekers R and J Sunde. 2014. Shifting Gear. A new governance framework for small-scale fisheries in South Africa. In: Sowman M and R Wynberg (eds). Governance for Justice and Environmental Sustainability. Lessons across Natural Resources Sectors in Sub-Saharan Africa. Earthscan from Routledge.
  • Sowman M and R Wynberg. 2014. Towards robust governance for justice and environmental sustainability. Lessons from natural resource sectors in sub-Saharan Africa. In: Sowman M and R Wynberg (eds). Governance for Justice and Environmental Sustainability. Lessons across Natural Resources Sectors in Sub-Saharan Africa. Earthscan from Routledge.
  • Bavinck M, Sowman M and A Menon. 2014. Theorizing participatory governance in contexts of legal pluralism: a conceptual reconnaissance of fishing conflicts and their resolution. In: M. Bavinck, L. Pellegrini and E. Mostert (eds). Conflicts over natural resources in the Global South: conceptual approaches (pp. 147-171). Leiden: CRC Press.
  • Sowman M, Rajagopalan R, Sharma C and J Sunde. 2014. Making space for small-scale fishing communities: The use of spatial management measures in fisheries management and marine conservation In Garcia M, Rice J and T Charles. Governance for Fisheries and Marine Conservation interactions and co-evolution. Wiley-Blackwell, Chichester/Hoboken.

Journal Articles

  • Sowman M and Sunde J. 2018. Social impacts of marine protected areas in South Africa on coastal fishing communities. Ocean & Coastal Management, 157:168-179.
  • Menon A, Sowman M and Bavinck M. 2018. Rethinking capitalist transformation of fisheries in South Africa and India. Ecology and Society, 23(4):27.
  • Sowman M and Malan N. 2018. Review of progress with integrated coastal management (ICM) in South Africa since the advent of democracy. African Journal of Marine Science.
  • Sowman M and Raemaekers S. 2018. Socio-ecological Vulnerability Assessment in Coastal Communities in the BCLME region. Journal of Marine Systems.
  • Bavinck M, Berkes F, Charles A, Esteves Dias ACE, Doubleday N, Nayak P and Sowman M. 2017. The impact of coastal grabbing on community conservation – a global reconnaissance. Maritime Studies 16: 8. 
  • Rice WS, Raemaekers S and Sowman M. 2017. Understanding bycatch using an EAF approach: The case of the Olifants estuary small-scale gillnet-fishery, South Africa. Ocean and Coastal Management, 149: 22-32.     ​​​​​​​
  • Colenbrander DR and M Sowman. 2015. Merging Socioeconomic Imperatives with Geospatial Data: A Non-Negotiable for Coastal Risk Management in South Africa. Coastal Management 43(3): 270-300.​​​​​​​
  • Harte W, Sowman M, Hastings P and I Childs. 2015. Barriers to risk reduction: Dontse Yakhe, South Africa. Disaster Prevention and Management (24) 5: 651–669.​​​​​​​
  • Sowman M, Sunde J, Raemaekers R and Schultz O. 2014. Fishing for Equality: Policy for poverty alleviation for South Africa’s small-scale fisheries. Marine Policy.​​​​​​​
  • Sowman M, Scott D, Green L, Hara M, Hauck M, Kirsten K, Paterson B, Raemaekers S, Scott K, Sunde J, Turpie J. (2013). Shallow waters: Shallow waters: social science research in the marine environment. Journal of Marine Science 35(3): 385-402​​​​​​​
  • Moloney C, Coyne V E, Griffiths C, Scott D and M Sowman (2013). Society, marine ecosystems, innovation and change: current states of knowledge in South Africa.  Journal of Marine Science 35(3): 359-360.​​​​​​​
  • Sunde J, Sowman M, Smith H and W Wicomb (2013). Emerging proposals for governance of tenure in small-scale fisheries in South Africa. FAO Land Tenure Journal. FAO, Rome, Italy.​​​​​​​
  • Sowman M, Hauck M, Van Sittert L and J Sunde. 2011. Marine protected area management in South Africa: New policies – old paradigms. Environmental Management 47(4):573-83.​​​​​​​
  • Sowman M. 2011. New perspectives in Small-scale fisheries: Challenges and prospects for implementation in South Africa. African Journal of Marine Science 33(2):297-311.

​​​​​​​Technical Reports

  • Sowman M., Scott D. and C. Sutherland. 2016. Governance and Social Justice Position Paper: The case of Milnerton Beach, Cape Town. Report prepared for City of Cape Town. Department of Environmental and Geographical Science, University of Cape Town.
  • Bergh, M.O., Sowman, M.R., Rampartab, C., Leach, K. and P. Lallemand.  2016.  A review and assessment of the economic, social and environmental impact of illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing in Africa. AU IBAR Project LOT 6, 2016. file:///C:/Users/01362935/Downloads/gi_20161021_iuu_impact_au-ibar_updated_en.pdf
  • Raemaekers S. and Sowman M. 2015. Community-level socio-ecological vulnerability assessments in the Benguela Current Large Marine Ecosystem. Report prepared for the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) and the Benguela Current Commission (BCC). 126pp. University of Cape Town, South Africa.
  • Sowman M., Raemaekers S. and J. Sunde. 2014. Guidelines for Integrating Human Dimensions into Marine Protected Area (MPA) Planning and Management. Environmental Evaluation Unit, University of Cape Town​​​​​​​
  • Sowman M., Raemaekers S., Sunde, J. and M. Hauck. 2014. Policy Brief. Integrating Human Dimensions into MPA Planning and Management. Environmental Evaluation Unit, University of Cape Town.​​​​​​​
  • Bergh M, Lallemand P, Sowman M and S. Raemaekers. 2014. South Africa Country Feasibility Study, Fisheries Review Report prepared for OCEANA, Washington DC, by OLRAC-SPS and EEU, UCT.
  • Paterson B, Sowman M, Raemaekers S, Russell D, Nkosi L, Draper K, Willemse N. (eds) 2014. Strengthening the Human Dimension of an Ecosystem Approach to Fisheries Management in the BCC region. Final Report of FAO-BCC Project EAF 09/12.
  • Jackson S, Sowman M. and J. Cox. 2013. Fishers’ proposals for fishery management in the Olifants Estuary. Unpublished report, Environmental Evaluation Unit, University of Cape Town and Masifundise.​​​​​​​
  • Sowman M, Sunde J and S Raemaekers. 2013. Guidelines for integrating human dimensions into Marine Protected Area (MPA) planning and management. Environmental Evaluation Unit, University of Cape Town, Report prepared for WWF South Africa.​​​​​​​
  • Sowman M, Sunde J and M Hara. 2012. FAO Malawi National Consultation on International Guidelines on Small-scale Fisheries. Final Report on the National Workshops held in Malawi as part of the National Consultation on the FAO Voluntary Guidelines on Small-scale Fisheries, Malawi, 26th-30th March 2012.​​​​​​​
  • Sowman M, Sunde J, Raemaekers S, Mbatha P and C Hara. 2012. Towards International Guidelines for Sustainable Small-scale Fisheries. Submission from Civil Society Organisations to the FAO Consultative process on Small-scale Fisheries. Synthesis Document. Report developed for the CSO Co-ordinating Committee.​​​​​​​
  • Sowman M Raemaekers R Schell N Sunde J and O Schultz 2011.  Integrating the Human Dimensions of an Ecosystems Approach to Fisheries (EAF) into Fisheries Management in the BCC regions. Baseline report: South Africa. Environmental Evaluation Unit (EEU), UCT. Report prepared for Benguela Current Commission (BCC) and United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO).