Plastic pellets called nurdles are being washed up on beaches.
Durban - An environmental disaster is unfolding along the KwaZulu-Natal coastline, warn environmentalists, as billions of plastic pellets are being washed up on the beaches.

And while they are not dangerous to humans at the moment, the pellets - called nurdles - are also heading out to sea.

Scientists at the University of KwaZulu-Natal have told Coastwatch KZN that the nurdles would soon become toxic as they get into the food chain.

“Fish see them as a food source - they look like transparent fish eggs and are the size of a lentil,” a Coastwatch KZN statement said.

Di Jones, of the Dolphin Coast Conservancy, warned: “This is comparable to an oil spill. There is a disaster in the making.”

The nurdles, used in the manufacture of plastic products, have appeared on the beaches and out at sea from Richards Bay to the Eastern Cape.

And there is a fear that they could end up at the iSimangaliso Wetland Park, South Africa’s first World Heritage Site.

The disaster started when a container with a cargo of nurdles was swept off a ship in the Durban Harbour during the heavy winds and storm on October 10.

Chris Wright, the Coastwatch KZN chairperson, blamed Transnet, arguing that the port authority was responsible because the container was washed overboard in the harbour.

Coastwatch KZN questioned why the environmental authorities were not informed and a general alert sent out.

It had been left to civil society to try to clean up the pollution, the organisation pointed out.

Whole bags of nurdles were being found on beaches.

Coastwatch KZN has warned the public that the bags should be handed in, adding that details about the collection points would follow.

Scientist Lisa Smith is calling on people who have sighted nurdles to report their location to her and, if possible, the first date they were spotted (send information to [email protected]).

She said that Transnet should have been on the lookout for possible sources of pollution after the storm.

The Daily News sent questions to Transnet about the issue, but a response had not been received at the time of publication.

Daily News