Warning as waves buffet Durban

2009-03-20 00:00

Fishermen, yachties and surfers this week issued a cyclone warning for Durban. Seas are getting rougher, waves higher and cyclonic activity is climbing, they said.

Water sport enthusiasts, many of whom are submitting renewed protests against a marina-type development adjacent to Durban’s Point Development this week, said the collapse of a massive construction crane off South Pier two weeks ago during stormy seas should alert authorities to changing weather patterns.

According to the South African Weather Service, swells during the first week of March were four to five metres compared to the normal two-metre wave height. Surfers said most cyclonic activity corresponded with higher tides. The latest strong swells that closed beaches were just two days off high tide. If the two had correlated, there would have been far more damage, they said.

Surfers said they have noted a major difference in the sea over the past three years — longer lulls interspersed with “wild ocean activity.” There were no waves for more than four months at the end of last year.

“Now three cyclones have hit the coast with real waves that get all the surfers happy,” said one.

Mozambique has been pounded by cyclones over the past three years, with Cyclone Jokwe causing havoc in March 2008 and floods claiming lives and homes in early 2007. Damage to the KZN coastline ran into the hundreds of millions in March 2007.

Geologist Dr Alan Smith agreed that cyclone activity has increased of late. Conditions are similar to those in 1984 when Cyclone Demoina ravaged the east coast.

He said global warming will definitely cause more storm and cyclone activity and higher waves.

This could be linked to the El Niña phenomenon, which is characterised by unusually cold ocean temperatures in the eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean every three to four years.

Fisherman Charlie Naidoo agreed that strong waves hitting South Pier, a favourite fishing spot for decades, are reminiscent of the 1960s and ’70s when people were banned from the piers during high seas. Surfers said it seems Durban is again seeing the great waves of its surfing heyday.

Despite repeated warnings that sea levels are rising due to global warming and advice that developers retreat rather than continue to colonise the coastline, the eThekwini Municipality has forged ahead with development plans.

A 2007 study into those most at risk from cyclones conducted by British and American scientists said it is too late to expect a reduction in greenhouse gases to help. Instead, the study advised migration away from high-risk zones.

Smith predicted that storm damage along the coastline will grow. Durban’s central beaches, in particular, have no sea sand buffer and could be particularly vulnerable.

“I would not support reclamation of land anywhere,” he said.

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