Coast KZN

Coastal issues


Pollution is an environmental, economic, health and aesthetic problem affecting coastal and marine environments around the world. The huge quantity of rubbish and litter, including plastics, that gets washed out to sea, particularly when a storm event occurs has come under the international spotlight due to currents causing the accumulation of the garbage in some regions (e.g. the Great Pacific Garbage Patch).

Many animals get entangled in plastic packets, fishing line and plastic containers, and die because they are trapped or cannot feed. Plastics do not degrade easily and remain in the marine environment for a long time (a plastic container can take 50-80 years to break down). When they do break down into tiny microplastic fragments, they cause more problems to marine animals. These particles are consumed by marine animals, especially filter feeders, which may mistake them for food, leading to starvation. In turn these are eaten by other larger animals. Hence, plastic pieces move up the food chain, accumulating in these larger animals, including animals eaten by humans. Plastic particles have been found in about 20% of the fish caught off Durban.

Other sources of pollution are:

  • Domestic waste (sewage);

  • Agricultural (including pesticides and fertilizer run-off); and

  • Industrial (chemicals, contaminants);

all of which travel down rivers and storm water systems entering the marine environment. Oils and chemicals may be accidentally or deliberately discharged into rivers and the sea by industries, or contaminated tanks and containers may be washed in rivers.

Discharge of effluent and chemical runoff:

The KZN coast has sewage outfalls into the marine environment at a number of points along the coast. Of concern is the frequent failure of municipal systems which results in sewage spills into the estuaries or the marine environment. High levels of bacteria (some of which may be pathogenic) in the water causes diseases in humans and animals. Fertilizers from agricultural runoff and sewage can cause “blooms” of algae, which deprive the water of oxygen and which can cause the death of various coastal species, e.g. Mass fish kill events.


Another, more recent challenge is that of microplastics which result from synthetic microfibers from clothing, and microbeads found in abrasive cleaning products (such as face wash and body wash). These microfibres, most of which originate from domestic and not industrial consumption, are discharged into rivers and stormwater drains and eventually enter into the marine environment. Microplastic particles carry an electric charge and can accumulate the chemical particles in the water discharged by industry and agricultural runoff, leading to the concentration of chemical pollutants on the microplastics. These chemicals then also accumulate in marine animals that consume them and can cause genetic abnormalities and/or poisoning.

Pollution Incident - Plastic nurdle spill - October 2017

To view more information on nurdles, what they are, how to collect them, where to drop off, how to contribute information and other interesting facts and statistics, please visit the Nurdles page:

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Marilyn Bodasing • Bronwyn Goble • Fiona MacKay • Marinel Willemse • Rabia Wahab