Facilitating knowledge co-creation for more inclusive ocean management through photostories and exhibition


Mia Strand and Nina Rivers

Last month between 23-31st March, Nina Rivers, Rachel Baasch, Mia Strand and co-researchers from Algoa Bay organised a multimedia exhibition at the South End Museum in Gqeberha showcasing Indigenous and local knowledge holders’ stories and relationships to the ocean and coast. The Oceans Connections exhibition forms part of Mia Strand’s PhD project, piloting arts-based participatory research methods in the form of photography and storytelling to better ‘hear’ and ‘see’ Indigenous and local knowledge in ocean management processes for more inclusive ocean governance. The exhibition also forms part of Nina Rivers’ postdoctoral project, exploring pathways to better integrate Indigenous and local knowledge systems in marine spatial planning (MSP). Both projects fall under the Algoa Bay Project, seeking to develop an integrated marine spatial plan for the Bay that will inform the national MSP process. 

The Oceans Connections exhibition at the South End Museum in Gqeberha brought together Indigenous and local knowledge holders, ocean decision-makers, academic researchers, conservation authorities and local managers to experience and engage with the photostories of the co-researchers. Picture by Mia Strand. 

The co-researchers have been integrally involved in developing the research objectives from the start and have been trained in photography and storytelling before documenting the pictures and stories that are exhibited. The arts-based research process has so far found strong cultural connections to the ocean and coast, particularly highlighting aspects of spiritual significance, learning, cultural heritage and history, fun and wellbeing. An example is how the ocean is recognised as the home of the ancestors in some Nguni cultures and how many Indigenous Khoisan community representatives feel closer to their heritage and to God when they are near the ocean. The hope is that these cultural connections to the ocean and coast can be better integrated into decision-making in Algoa Bay. 

We respect the sea a lot because we believe it is where our ancestors lived and continue to live. This is our place of serenity and (…) When we encounter life’s challenges the sea is our place of prayer. The sea is a place to regain strength when we have fallen short due to life’s tribulations. We come here to seek help and guidance as we plead with our ancestral lineage” Words by and picture of Sangoma Siyasanga Ntabeni.

Furthermore, the process of co-creating knowledge with Indigenous and local knowledge holders in Algoa Bay identified experiences of exclusion in decision-making and limited access to places of cultural and spiritual significance along the coast. The exhibition therefore also aimed to convey stories of remembering pasts, reflecting on the current and imagining better and more inclusive futures. Emphasising people’s cultural connections to the ocean, and better recognising them in ocean management has the potential to include people’s awareness of the ocean, which could, in turn, contribute to a more sustainable sociocultural approach to ocean management necessary for equitable and sustainable future ocean social-ecological wellbeing.

The Group Areas Act has driven us far away from the sea. We live in the Northern Areas now and transport is expensive. There are a lot of expenses to come to the sea. You must buy food, you must pay for the petrol to bring you here, and you must pay to enter. It is no longer free for us to enter. It is privatised, which is making it difficult for us, for the first Indigenous peoples of South Africa, to translate our culture and our heritage to our children’s children” Words by and picture of Paramount Chief Human of the Kei Korana.

This project has been funded by the South African National Research Foundation (NRF), the SANOCEAN project, NINA and SAIAB, as well as the SARChI in MSP through DSI / NRF. Other funding has been given in part by the One Ocean Hub. The project has ethics clearance with the Nelson Mandela University Research Ethics Committee (Human) (H21-BES-DEV-007) and is registered with the South African National NHREC (REC-042508-025).