Coast KZN

11 Jun 2021

Long road to recovery for raw sewage-plagued Tongaat estuary

Juan Venter (North Coast Courier) Picture: The Tongaat Estuary requires extensive care and rehabilitation efforts to see it restored to its former glory..

Restoring the Tongaat River estuary to full health will require putting an end to illegal sand mining, say the environmental experts appointed to investigate the estuary’s poor condition.

The health of the estuary has been affected for years by raw sewage spills and an infestation of floating river plants that affect water quality, aquatic species and bird life. The draft estuary management plan (EMP) prepared by consultants Anchor Environmental proposes the formation of the uThongathi Estuary Management Forum. As the estuary falls between KwaDukuza and eThekwini Metro, it is envisaged that the forum would be made up of government departments and other interested parties.

The report highlighted that a large sand mining area is present on the northern banks of the river, just downstream of the Tongaat waste water treatment plant. The health of an estuary is directly impacted by such activities and according to Anchor, KwaZulu-Natal’s 74 estuaries have 37 sand mining operations on them, with 17 being directly impacted. Anchor highlighted that government’s current measures to combat such illegal ad hoc operations fell short.

The organisation called on local government to monitor and ensure compliance on such activities, while developing a means for the public to report such operations and ensure that they are investigated and stopped.

Raw sewage spills into the river have also seen alien invasive species grow rampant as a result of increased nutrients, mixed with run-off from surrounding farms. Floating alien invasive plants which drain the water of oxygen also negatively impact river species. The spill from the waste treatment plant results in the full volume of the river being replaced about every 6 days. This prevents micro algae from being produced, which are a natural food source to a number of species in the estuary.

Anchor called on those responsible to avoid further spills and investigate ways of diverting or re-using waste water.

While classified as an endangered system with high biodiversity importance, the estuary enjoys no formal protection and it is hoped that this can be obtained through partnership with eThekwini.

A draft report is available from and the commenting period ends on June 23.