Coast KZN

03 May 2018

Marine experts slam short-term sand pumping

Bheki Mbanjwa (THE MERCURY) Picture: A grader pushes sand on North Beach. Sand is being pumped on to the city’s beaches to reverse the effects of erosion

Durban – Marine experts and activists have called on the city to find a long-term solution to sand erosion on Durban’s beaches ­rather than constantly throwing money at short-term solutions like the ongoing sand pumping operation under way.
The city is undertaking the mammoth task of replenishing the central beaches via an offshore pipeline connected to a Transnet dredger.

Johnny Vassilaros of the Save Vetch’s Association said a contractor had been paid R15 million to connect the pipe to the dredger.

All the experts, however, believe that the only viable long-term solution would be for the city to repair or rebuild a functioning sand-pumping system similar to the one of yesteryear. The city had been operating a sand pumping station until a hopper station (a sand storage facility) was demolished in 2007 in what the municipality said was part of harbour widening.

The system included a long pipe running along the beach which – with the assistance of booster pump stations – pumped sand to where it was needed.

However, after the demolition of the hopper station, the city had not commissioned the booster pump stations, meaning sand could not be pumped further than Addington Beach, it has been claimed.

Marine geologist Dr Alan Smith said the sand-pumping operation under way on the Durban beachfront would only offer a temporary solution. He said the city needed to restore or rebuild a sand-pumping system that would regularly replenish sand into the beaches.

While the city is reported to be paying R15m for the current operation, Smith said the better option would be to take the money and use it towards a functional sand-pumping ­system.


Oceanographic and Air Quality specialist Lisa Guastella shared Smith’s sentiment, saying because the harbour disrupted the normal longshore drift, which transported sand northward, it became important to regularly pump sand on to the beaches to maintain them and counter erosion.

She said the city had to get a fully functioning sand-­pumping system like the one it had in the early 1990s.

She said the city’s previous efforts to pump sand on to the beach had resulted in unintended negative consequences.

“Part of the problem is they have been pumping like crazy on South Beach near uShaka to Vetch’s Beach, and have then been pushing sand on to Vetch’s reef, smothering the reef that the Save Vetch’s Association fought so long to save.”

She said there was sufficient sand available, but it was confined to the southern beaches, while the central beaches and northern beaches were depleted because there was no mechanism to get the sand there, and the beachfront piers, in particular the most southerly ­located New Pier, has blocked the northward movement of sand.

Vassilaros said he was also concerned about the over- pumping at Vetch’s pier. The first 200 metres of the reef was buried in sand, Vassilaros said.

“We are not asking these guys to do something they have not done before. They used to have booster pumps along the beach and sand was pumped where it was needed,” he said.

Chris Wright of Coast Watch said the emergency pumping of large volumes of sand was not the solution to sand erosion.

“Systematic sand pumping from sand trapped on the southern side of the break­water needs to occur and ­migrate northward.

“If you place any structures in the way, the only solution would be to pump sand. Erosion occurs if sand pumping is not systematically imple­mented,” he said

Wright said it was important that any interventions were done with due dilligence to protect the environment.

“R15m is just a drop in the ocean compared with the environmental costs the city can incur if environmental management is not implemented,” he said.