Nurdle hurdle: Clean-up of KZN beaches far from complete

2018-01-12 12:04


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Durban - Over 40 tons of plastic nurdles remain scattered across KwaZulu-Natal's beaches, despite nearly three months of clean-up efforts to curb the damage of a container ship spill.

The spill occurred during a severe storm in October 2017 when a Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC) container ship lost 49 tons of pea-sized, plastic beads, known as nurdles, into Durban's waters.

- Read: Shipping company cleaning up Durban cargo spill

Volunteer clean-up groups are frustrated by the slow response to the disaster from government bodies.

Judy Mann, conservation strategist for the South African Association for Marine Biological Research (SAAMBR), recalled that the clean-up was only initiated two weeks after the spill.

"It is a serious environmental disaster and a lot of lessons need to be learnt about how to handle these things right at the start, because that's when the most corrective action can be taken," she said.

Cameron Johnston, member of Salt Fishing South Africa, argued that harbour authorities should have made an effort to curb the spread of nurdles as soon as the spill happened.

"The nurdles were blatantly visible immediately after the storm and not much was done about it, and the container that was leaking the nurdles was in the water for a while," he said.

"I think that was a major contributing factor to the vast area that the nurdles have spread to."

Clean-up 'going to be long and difficult'

The Joint Operations Committee (JOC), which is composed of several national and provincial authorities tasked with the clean-up, are aware of the concerns raised by NGOs and volunteer groups. However, they maintain that they acted immediately and promptly following the storm.

"Our first priority was to float the aground vessels in order to clear the port entrance, safely moor the adrift and aground vessels, clear the port channel of any obstructions caused by the loss of containers overboard and safety of all affected by the storm," said Captain Saroor Ali, regional manager of the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA), a member of the JOC.

"Containment measures were implemented as soon as it was discovered that at least one of the fallen containers had held bags of plastic pellets."

The initial nurdle spill has spread from Kosi Bay to Gansbaai and only 13% of the spill has been recovered since clean-up operations began, according to data research by SAAMBR.

- Read: Nurdles infest Durban beaches after big storm

"It has become clear, due to the amount of nurdles spilt, and their size, that the clean-up operation is going to be long and difficult," said Zolile Nqayi, communication director from the National Department of Environmental Affairs, also member of the JOC.

Ali added that the JOC had no specific date set for the completion of the clean-up efforts.

"Clean-up operations will continue until the JOC is satisfied and no recharging of beaches [with more nurdles] is observed," he said. 

- WATCH: How you can rid SA beaches of nurdles

Read more on:    durban  |  maritime accidents  |  environment  |  maritime  |  pollution

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