Overgenerous amounts of sand cover Vetch’s Reef. Johnny Vassilaros
Overgenerous amounts of sand cover Vetch’s Reef. Johnny Vassilaros

Former marine eco jewel Vetch’s Reef on the rocks

By Duncan Guy Time of article published Jan 30, 2021

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Durban - A lobby group is pushing for Vetch’s Reef to return to being the marine eco jewel it once was.

The Save Vetch’s Association (SVA), which calls eThekwini Municipality’s “excessive, reckless and unnecessary” sand pumping “a crime against the environment”, has called on it to go back to the milder practices it applied before 2014.

This would be in line with recommendations of a report the City itself commissioned by the Oceanographic Research Institute (ORI), the SVA said.

A rock on Vetch’ s Reef was just visible in 2014 when there was less sand than today. Johnny Vassilaros.

SVA chair Johnny Vassilaros said the municipality had had the ORI report since May last year and “only releasing it in November 2020 through the constant pressure from the SVA”.

Since November the SVA had been dealing with environmental consultants considering what procedures to take, including getting legal advice.

The same rock back in 1990. Johnny Vassilaros

City spokesman Msawakhe Mayisela said the ORI report made a number of recommendations to limit the quantity of sand being pumped in the reef’s vicinity over a short period of time.

“These will, wherever possible, be added to the Sand Pumping Maintenance Management Plan currently being finalised for submission to the (KZN) Department of Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs (EDTEA),” he said.

The ORI report recommended that “in general, a pumping regime which delivers a more consistent load of sand over time be adopted”.

“This will allow for less smothering of organisms spatially and temporally as opposed to having episodic pulses of sand which may smother the reef for weeks and lead to mortality of sessile reef organisms.”

It also recommended that fine silt be avoided.

Mayisela said sand pumping in the Vetch’s basin had been going on for more than 60 years and would continue for future decades.

“It is essential for maintaining the beaches for tourism purposes and for the protection of coastal infrastructure.

“In discussion with Transnet Port Authorities, who supply the sand on an irregular basis, eThekwini Municipality will endeavour to ensure that Durban’s beaches are adequately nourished with sand with the minimum impact on the environment, so that they can be enjoyed by all citizens.”

The SVA said the eThekwini Municipality was responsible for the replenishment of sand, provided by Transnet, on Durban’s beaches and the activity was undertaken under a Maintenance Management Plan, intended to regulate the activity to prevent and mitigate any environmental impacts.

“One of the ORI recommendations is for the municipality to overhaul the sand-pumping regime – which will require amending the MMP, inclusive of a Public Participation Process.”

KZN Department of Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs spokesman Bheki Mbanjwa said it had engaged the eThekwini Municipality to incorporate the findings from the Vetch's Reef Biodiversity Assessment into the draft maintenance management plan for sand pumping on Durban's beaches.

"Inputs from all interested and affected parties, including members of the public, will have to be incorporated into and considered in the approval of the MMP. The department is currently awaiting the submission of the final MMP for approval."

The SVA, originally formed to save Vetch’s Reef from the proposed and later abandoned marina, said the sand pumping by the municipality was to provide more beach frontage and defend the new promenade, which had been built below the high-water mark, in contravention of the law and a condition of its authorisation.

“This same poorly managed sand-pumping operation has also left the Moyo’s Pier, in front of the uShaka Marine World, high and dry on many occasions, compromising the aquarium’s water intake points, placed beneath the pier.”

The SVA added that this had prompted the municipality to propose “an insane and costly extension of the pier, wasting an estimated R100 million of ratepayers’ hard-earned money, during a time when South Africa can least afford more wasteful expenditure”.

Mayisela did not respond to a query about the present status of the proposal.

The SVA said Vetch’s Pier had been in existence since the mid-19th century and became one of the largest subtidal mussel beds on the entire KZN coastline, hosting an estimated 85 tons of mussels.

“It was also home to millions of other marine creatures, which helped sustain the food chain on the Durban beachfront.

Now, “the reef is busy dying, ”choked and smothered by tons of sediment, while our authorities continue to look the other way”.

Mayisela pointed out that Vetch’s Reef itself is artificial, as it is the remnants of an old pier.

“The construction of Vetch’s Pier began in 1860 and it was intended to be a breakwater for Durban Harbour, however, it was never completed as the project became prohibitively expensive. The pier was made of wood and boulders, but now only boulders remain forming what has become an artificial reef.”

He added that the aims of the study were to quantify and describe current biodiversity on Vetch’s Reef, as well as to quantify, describe and compare the historical biodiversity on Vetch’s Reef in 2004 with its current biodiversity.

The Independent on Saturday

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