Coast KZN

24 Oct 2017

Nurdle spillage along coastline proves difficult to handle

Dave Savides (Zululand Observer) Picture: Municipal workers on Sunday were ill-equipped to dispose of the nurdles, which marine creatures could mistake for eggs, and ingest Photo: Dave Savides

Hard to get rid of the pesky pollutant

THE presence of billions of small nurdle bubbles along the KZN coast – including Alkantstrand and Umlalazi – is posing a clean-up problem for environmentalists.

The tiny balls of pellets used in the manufacture of plastic products are strewn for scores of kilometres along the high water mark at beaches and are proving difficult to collect and dispose of.

The trouble began when a container vessel carrying 25kg bags of the nurdles was battered during the recent fierce storms in the Port of Durban, and at least one container burst open.

Strong southwesterly winds and the coastal counter-current carried the nurdles to distant destinations and when the wind changed to northeasterly it spread to the southern KZN coastline.

‘Scientists at the University of KZN said the pellets are not immediately dangerous to humans, but would become more toxic and start entering the food chain,’ said Di Jones of Coastwatch KZN.


North of the dredger pipeline at Alkantstrand, the pollution threat could clearly be seen on Sunday

‘Fish see them as a food source as they look like transparent fish eggs and are the size of a lentil, and they therefore swallow them.

‘Great harm is being caused to our marine environment and the cleanup will need to continue for as long as the pellets continue to wash up.’

But it’s not that simple, and teams and individuals armed with nets, sieves and buckets have hardly made a dent in the pollution since it was first reported on Friday.

‘If this was an oil spill we would know what to do,’ said Jones.

Most effective thus far has been using 2-guage shade cloth with holes big enough for the sand to drop through when shaken, so only the nurdles remain – but this is a tedious process.

Angry questions are being asked about the lack of communication from port and environmental authorities, and why the area around the container vessel was not immediately cordoned off using floating booms to prevent dispersion of the nurdles.

There has been no coordinated clean-up, with the work being left to local eco-warriors – whose gallant efforts will make little difference given the larger problem.


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