Bart Fokkens and Margaret Burger in Umngeni River.Picture Zanele Zulu.23/07/2015

A massive clean-up operation was under way at the uMngeni River mouth on Friday to remove a mountain of plastic bottles and litter washed up on its banks and the beach at Blue Lagoon.

Litter piled up after Durban experienced its first heavy rainfall in months.

On Thursday, the shoreline near the river mouth, mangroves and Blue Lagoon beach were piled with plastic bottles, hyacinth and other litter.

Umgeni Estuary Conservancy (UEC) spokeswoman, Margaret Burger, said after the rains the solid pollution in the estuary was always “phenomenal”. She said on Thursday the rubbish was visible below Connaught Bridge, floating downstream.

By midday on Thursday, the litter had reached the river mouth and continued to pile up through the afternoon. Conservationist Carl Schloms said he “could not believe” the rubbish in the estuary at Beachwood Mangroves. He was even more distressed at seeing a heron with a packet around its beak. Environmentalists were trying the catch the bird.

“Our mission is to prevent litter from entering the Indian Ocean. This is in the heart of a tourism hot spot and has certainly given the city a bad name,” Burger said, standing among the litter.

Bart Fokkens, of the Dusi Umgeni Conservation Trust (DUCT), said a floating bridge near the uMhlangane River in Sea Cow Lake had become submerged and was unable to trap litter.

Fokkens has set up four litter booms, two each in uMngeni River and Umhlangane River.

The bridge, made of 56 wooden pallets and 30m-long, goes across the river near Springfield in an oblique angle, acting as a litter trap.

The first DUCT boom is below the Windsor Golf Course, stretching 100m to protect the reeds and mangroves. The second is at a culvert draining Chris Hani Road. Because of construction taking place, it was put back yesterday to avoid more dirt flowing into the river.

Fokkens inspects the booms weekly. He has been monitoring the river for almost five years. He said DUCT would clean up on Friday between Connaught Bridge and Kingfisher Canoe Club.

“We are concerned firstly about the habitat, biodiversity and alien plants like the hyacinth which have washed up on the banks as well,” he said.

Fokkens pointed out that litter was stuck deep in the reed bed.

Burger said they had a dedicated litter picker, Emmanuel Dhlomo, whose wages were derived from sponsors and the three recycle impact bins at the nearby Pick n Pay Hypermarket.

Fokkens said moving the tyres from the sand banks was a “huge task”.

Joan Porter, director of education at uShaka Seaworld, said, to the general eye, the dirt looked disgusting but it also had a bigger impact on the economy, environment and recreational fishing.

“Lots of stuff we don’t see among the litter is used oil, sewage and other pollutants. The river mouth area is a special part of the marine environment. It acts as a nursery and food source for coastal animals. East coast fisheries are dependent on nurseries. If we destroy the nurseries, marine life would suffer,” she said.

Fokken, Porter and Burger laid the blame solely on individuals who littered and dumped refuse.

“Your hand causes this,” said Fokkens. “Litter goes out the car window or is thrown on the street. It ends up in the storm drains. All the bottles have their lids on. This is a conscious effort to close the lid on the bottle and throw it. It costs more to clean up and certainly is not a job creator,” he said.