UPDATE: Source of toxic nurdles posing risk to SA's marine food chain found as mass beach clean-up continues

2017-10-28 10:59 - Kavitha Pillay
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Cape Town - While the damaged shipping container - suspected to have been carrying plastic cargo and "nurdles" - has been located off SA's east coast, South Africans continue to help collect hazardous nurdles from east coast beaches.

Nurdles are lentil-sized plastic “pellets” that never disintegrate, but merely break down into smaller and smaller fragments. "Both the nurdles and the toxins they have absorbed can enter the food chain as they are eaten by fish and other marine animals," warns the South African Association for Marine Biological Research (SAAMBR).

SEE: Nurdles infest Durban beaches after big storm

"Billions" of hazardous plastic pellets have washed up on SA's east coast beaches following the recent big storm.

Assessing the scale of pollution

Following the loss of cargo into the water in Durban Harbour during the massive, the South African South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA) has issued a directive to the Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC) to conduct an assessment of the scale of pollution.

SAMSA and Transnet National Ports Authority (TNPA) had to prioritise the refloating and removing of five drifting vessels, three of which had grounded in the port due to the weather conditions.

“Two damaged shipping containers were secured that that had fallen into the water. These containers were retrieved as soon as available resources had successfully dealt with the five affected vessels,” says SAMSA.

SEE: After effects of Durban storm stink up tourism at port

“Containment measures were implemented as soon as it was discovered that at least one of the fallen containers had held bags of plastic pellets. Several bags were retrieved within the port waters and a clean-up operation was implemented by the Port Pollution Control department,” adds SAMSA.

On 11 October TNPA conducted underwater surveys in search of the lost containers, but the search was unsuccessful due to debris and muddy water.  On 12 October the first container was retrieved, “suspected to have been carrying plastic cargo was severely damaged (twisted and squashed) and it had spilled into the harbour.  The second container which had a cargo of Energy drinks was retrieved on the 13 October and it was still intact with all its cargo,” says SAMSA.

On October 26, the two containers that were missing had been located and will be retrieved as soon as weather conditions allow.

SEE: Durban storm sees 'increase in snake sightings', say KZN snake rescuers

SAMSA’s Chief Operating Officer Sobantu Tilayi says “area survey of beaches up to Umhlanga on North Coast and Umkomaas on the South Coast beaches was conducted by a service provider accompanied by SAMSA. Minuscule presence of plastic pellets was observed at the high water mark only.  Aggressive cleaning approach with a defined search pattern has been agreed upon by the joint response team as a way forward.”

Tilayi says that a team is assessing the extent of damage have travelled northwards and southwards, and “Local municipalities will be kept informed to enable surveillance team to access beaches.”

On the direction of SAMSA, Drizit Environmental, is leading the clean-up operation and has a central collection point at Durban Ski Boat Club (79 Browns Road, Point, Durban) where the plastic pellets may be dropped off. Drizit can be contacted on their 24- hour toll free line - 0800 202 202.

More help needed to remove nurdles

The toxic plastic pellets have spread from Durban beaches further north and south, with local communities organising cleanup groups. More drop off points across the KZN coast have been added, but SAAMBR asks for more organisations to come forward as they need drop off points in as many locations on the coast as possible.

The marine organisation will also be organising a mass cleanup of uShaka Beach in Durban on Sunday, 29 October, where everyone can come to help remove the nurdles.

uShaka Marine World is also hosting a #ShowMeYourNurdles competition to get the public involved in helping to clean up beaches. Nurdle collectors have the chance of winning 1 of 2 platinum passes to enter uShaka Marine World. Click here for competition details.

SEE: WATCH: How you can rid SA beaches of nurdles

"The public response has been incredible so far. You as individuals, families and friends can urgently make a difference while the authorities deal with the legalities. The South African marine life is depending on you," writes SAAMBR.

SAAMBR released a handy video on how to collect the pellets, but it also drives home the severity of the situation.

ALSO SEE: After effects of Durban storm stink up tourism at port

See below the list of where you can drop off your collected nurdles for safe disposal, as they can't be disposed with general waste:

  • Outspan Inn, Port St Johns, lower South Coast
  • Offshore Africa, Port St Johns, lower South Coast
  • M&R Mechanical Workshop, Southport, lower South Coast
  • Buccaneers, St Michaels, lower South Coast
  • Aliwal Dive Centre, Umkomaas
  • Durban Undersea Club, Vetch’s Beach, Durban
  • uShaka Marine World – ticket office
  • Afro's Chicken, South Beach, Durban
  • Circus Circus, North Beach, Durban
  • Lifeguards, Wedge Beach, Durban
  • California Dreaming restaurant, Central Beach, Durban
  • Umhlanga Rocks Surf Lifesaving Club, Umhlanga
  • Tsogo Sun Cabana Beach Resort, Umhlanga – towel kiosk
  • Zinkwazi Skiboat Club
  • Umlalazi Nature Reserve entrance gate, Mtunzini

You can also report nurdle sightings to CoastKZN, which is managed by Oceanographic Research Institute in collaboration with KZN's Department of EDTEA. Be sure to include photos, GPS reference and the name of the beach or estuary where spotted.

ALSO SEE: Durban storm sees 'increase in snake sightings', say KZN snake rescuers



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