Armed with garbage bags and sturdy gloves, volunteers will come together for one of the largest river clean-ups at the mouth of the Black River in Paarden Eiland on Saturday. Photo: Supplied

Cape Town – The magnitude of trash entering Table Bay through the Black River has prompted 10 non-profit and citizen-led activist groups to join forces for a mass clean-up at the mouth of the river in Paarden Eiland on Saturday.

Concerned citizens and non-profit organisations have increasingly hosted clean-ups along rivers. During a scouting operation along the river in April, river cleaning volunteers discovered a mass of trash that has accumulated at the Black River mouth. 

From past clean-up operations, it's estimated around 70 large trash bags of waste flow down the Black River and into the sea every day. 

“We were in tears. The amount of plastic entering our oceans through the Black River was shocking," says Stefanie Titus, head of volunteering at #SeaTheBiggerPicture. 

“This has prompted us to join forces with several other volunteer river and beach cleaning initiatives to tackle the urgent situation.”

Armed with garbage bags and sturdy gloves, volunteers will come together for one of the largest river clean-ups in Cape Town on Saturday. 

The Black River is a tributary to the Salt River catchment area, which drains water from both Table Mountain and the Cape Flats into Table Bay. 

The Black River flows through the many – and diverse – communities of Cape Town: the southern suburbs, the Cape Flats, and the industrialised areas in the eastern City Bowl and northern suburbs. The river mouth is located in the industrial area of Paarden Eiland below the bridge of the R27. 

Chris Krauss, from #SeaTheBiggerPicture, one of the main organisers, stresses that while the trash often ends up on the beaches, “more important are the effects of all this waste in our fresh and seawater mass, which are devastating for bird and marine life.” 

A recent example is the dozens of dead baby turtles that washed up on the Overstrand coast. Marine scientists found micro-plastics, Styrofoam balls, and small pieces of plastic wrappers in their stomachs. They believe the turtles may have died from ingesting the trash.

Chavonne Snyman, founder of the Plastic Pollution Initiative, says they have seen that uncontrolled dumping upstream means that, during heavy rain, “plastic, mattresses, TVs, nurdles, medical and other waste wash down the river into the ocean”.

Researchers have found that where rivers flow into the ocean, the density fronts between fresh and salt water help to concentrate zooplankton and larval fish, making them more available to predators. 

They found that predatory seabirds and prey fish were more in abundance in the area where the salt and fresh water mixes, pointing to the importance of good water quality where rivers meet the sea. 

In the case of the Black River, invasive plants and a tremendous amount of trash that find its way into the river are seriously compromising the water quality. 

This comes to the detriment of life forms not only around the river mouth, but also upstream. Near the suburb of Observatory, for example, the river is flowing alongside the Raapenberg Bird Sanctuary, a protected area that is an important breeding side for Egyptian geese, sacred ibis and other duck species.

The clean-up is organised by #SeaTheBiggerPicture, Oceano Reddentes, Stasher, Animal Ocean and Surf CPT. They will be joined from volunteers of five initiatives run by concerned citizens from Milnerton, Pinelands, Observatory, Mowbray, Muizenberg, Claremont and Rondebosch. 

These volunteer groups and non-profit organisations all are very active through regular beach and river clean-ups, liaising with the City of Cape Town to install nets to catch floating trash and a current petition against domestic, industrial and medical waste pollution of the City’s rivers (http://bit.ly/End-Water-Trash).   

"We would like to involve members of the public – and members of the media – to join us; we need all the help we can get. 

"And, hopefully joining us once will encourage people to come to our regular cleans or start ones in their own areas," said Krauss. “Dogs, families, friends – all are welcome.”

The event starts at 10am on Saturday. After a safety briefing and the actual clean-up and sorting of collected material, it will conclude with educational talks.

Participants will be provided with gloves and buckets. Parking can be found on either side of the river, in President Kruger or Nautilus streets, Paarden Eiland.

The trash will be sorted in three categories by the volunteers. What can be recycled will be placed in separate recycling bins. 

Single-use plastic like chips packaging, straws or candy wrapper will be stuffed in 2-litre soft-drink plastic bottles, called ecobricks, which can be used in construction. 

There is a conscious effort to make the clean a zero-waste clean – if it cannot be put in an ocean eco brick (an ecobrick that takes dirty and wet plastics), it will be taken to the closest landfill.

Cape Times