Like people in many nations, South Africans value their coastal resources and are striving to manage them more effectively (Cicin-Sain & Knecht 1998; CMPP 1998, 2000; Glavovic 2000 a, b, c; Glavovic et al. 2001). The White Paper for Sustainable Coastal Development in South Africa aims to promote sustainable coastal development through integrated coastal management. This new policy represents a marked shift from earlier views of the coast and how it should be managed. What was, until relatively recently, a predominantly biophysical and bureaucratic view has been transformed into a participatory approach driven by human development imperatives and the need to promote sustainable livelihoods. How did this transformation take place, and what lessons might this experience offer others grappling with vexing poverty and environmental issues?