Fury as pollution shuts Durban beaches for long weekend
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All central beaches from the harbour mouth to the Umgeni river at the Blue Lagoon were closed yesterday afternoon because of unacceptable levels of E Coli
Organisers of the the sixth Durban Mile Swim Series are fuming at having to postpone the event, because of the City’s failure to resolve a sewerage problem.
After week’s of talks and mounting excitement amid 25O participants signed for the event, the City closed down the beaches for the long weekend, instead of fixing the infrastructure that was causing the sewage to spill into the sea.
“Surely you fix these things. You don’t leave them,” event organiser Trevor Martin told the Independent on Saturday, calling the city “absolutely incompetent”.
All central beaches, from the harbour mouth to the uMngeni river at the Blue Lagoon were closed yesterday afternoon because of unacceptable levels of E Coli. Those further north, all the way to Tongaat, remained closed because of pollution after the razing of a warehouse containing toxic chemicals at Cornubia during the July looting and riots.
Yesterday morning as people flocked to the promenade there appeared to be no signs warning people of the dangers.
Ethan Campbell, a Grade 11 pupil at Westville Boys’ High, decided against entering the water with his surfboard after hearing the beach was closed.
“I saw no signs,” he said.
Veteran surfer Jean-Marc Tostee said the city needed to address the problem.
“I started a discussion with my attorney this morning to open proceedings for a class action suit against the city regarding the negligence of the sewerage system,” said Tostee.
He had to call in the plumbers to his Rivertown business this week to attend to a problem that turned out to be on the municipal grid.
Fedhasa’s East Coast chairman Brett Tungay said that while the closing of the beaches had a negative effect, tourists would still be just “20 minutes to half an hour” drive from open beaches.
Three weeks ago, the Independent on Saturday reported that oceanographer Lisa Gaustella suspected water to be polluted off Snake Park Beach, and wondered whether it wasn’t linked to a sewage leak in Sherwood. The next week, several children ‒ between 22 and 40 ‒ who had surfed off Battery Beach were reported to be ill. The parents of five spoke to the media.
Last week the focus shifted to the lower reaches of the uMngeni River which includes Blue Lagoon. Paddlers and environmentalists said sewage pollution had become so bad motorists on Riverside Drive in Umgeni Park could smell it and canoe events had to be held near the river mouth and at high tide when there was maximum dilution.
Durbanites Against Plastic Pollution (DAPP) founder said if the city’s ageing and oversubscribed sewerage infrastructure was not overhauled and properly managed, the river, beach and bay water would become too polluted for recreational use within five years.
Raw sewage frequently pours out of pump stations and treatment plants, they said.
“Teams are currently hard at work on a malfunctioning sewer pump station that is constantly vandalised for scrap metals and work is at an advanced stage to remedy the situation,” said eThekwini Municipal spokesperson Msawakhe Mayisela.
He said Pipeline, Amanzimtoti Main Beach, Warner Beach, Winklespruit Beach, Reunion Beach and Umgababa Beach remained open.
“The city is aware of the significance of this long weekend, but it has a responsibility of guarding against anything that poses a threat to the public and to tourists.”
He added that R600 million had been earmarked to upgrade the infrastructure and acknowledged that “there must be aggressive intervention”.
He said the city was changing things “but it won’t be overnight”.
The Independent on Saturday