COLUMN: ‘Litter’ly killing us

2016-03-08 06:00

Take a stroll along most beaches in Cape Town and what do you see? Plastic bags, plastic bottles, broken glass and cigarette butts sitting in the beautiful sand that we love to run our toes through.

It is very rare to surf or swim in the water of Muizenberg without either touching a piece of plastic or, at least, seeing a piece of plastic floating in the water.

Interestingly enough, it is important to understand that most of the pollution we see doesn’t necessarily come from the direct littering of the beach. Studies have shown that about 80% of all pollution that enters the ocean originates from land.

The litter that is thrown onto land is either blown into the ocean in the wind or makes its way into the ocean via rivers or storm water drains.

Even though the ocean is extremely large, the effect of pollution is becoming more evident.

Fish and marine mammals are being harmed by the litter in the ocean. They can be strangled or suffocated by it.

What is even more alarming, is that the plastic items take decades to naturally biodegrade. So even if the fish that consume the plastic die, the plastic itself will live on.

This is when plastics can have an impact on human health. When humans consume these fish, not only can they get food poisoning or immune system problems but in extreme cases these toxins can cause cancer.

So what can be done to solve this problem?

. Educate the public, starting with the youth, on the impact of plastic on the environment.

. Encourage the recycling of plastic items in our own households.

. Get communities and schools involved in beach clean-ups.

. Place more rubbish bins along the coastline and have the waste collected regularly.

It is a common misconception that if you cannot see the problem, the problem is not affecting you.

Let’s stop the littering.

This column was contributed by Michael Hart-Davis, a student of Marine Science. Email him on

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