An unpleasant morning sight of pollution in Durban harbour this week. Picture: Supplied.
An unpleasant morning sight of pollution in Durban harbour this week. Picture: Supplied.

Harbour waters getting 'worse, quickly’

By Duncan Guy Time of article published Mar 6, 2021

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Durban - Pollution in Durban waters from stormwater drains and rivers is “getting worse, quickly”.

Renowned angler Wally Watt is not alone in this thinking and like-minded DA PR councillor Shamendri Sewshankar is motivating a meeting of all stakeholders at the harbour “to sit around a table and hammer out a way forward”.

“We’ve got to start cleaning it up. Every time there is heavy rain there is a floating sea of pollution. It’s pathetic,” she told the Independent on Saturday.

Filth from stormwater drains and the three rivers that feed in to Durban harbour creates an eyesore at the yacht mole. Picture: Supplied.

She said there had been a “crazy” back-and-forth exchange of emails as the harbour and the municipality held one another responsible for the mess.

“They need to work out, between them, who is responsible,” she said, noting that there were “big plans” for the port.

By the time of publication, neither the city nor Transnet had responded to requests for comment.

Watt said sports fishers like him travelled a lot and knew how other harbours looked by comparison.

“Cape Town is clear, Saldanha Bay is clear, Mossel Bay is clear, Port Elizabeth (now Gqeberha) is clear, East London is clear, Richards Bay is clear, but Durban and Maputo are a mess.

“And you can see the rubbish a long way out from Durban,” he added.

Durban’s beaches are well known for their litter problems after floods, attracting the attention of volunteers on clean-up missions.

Jone Porter, education director at uShaka Sea World, said there was always attention given to harbour pollution when it rained and pollution went out to sea, but that every day the same movement of pollution through the harbour and into the sea was happening on a smaller scale.

Turtles were among the marine life being badly affected.

“Ten to 15 years ago we did not see turtles with plastic congestion problems.”

She said consumer behaviour was a key factor in controlling the amounts of plastic, polystyrene and other litter.

“My concern is that we as a society still need plastic, but we are not pushing enough to ensure that the plastic used for packaging is recyclable.”

Porter added that consumers dictated that things be wrapped in plastic.

“And now, with Covid, there is more pressure.”

In January, the Department of Environment Affairs postponed to May 5 the implementation of the Extended Producer ResponsibilityRegulations.

“The regulations … outline a new approach to waste management, and will contribute significantly to the diversion of waste from landfill,” it said in a statement.

“This will increase the recycling, reduction, reuse and recovery rate, thus achieving one of the aims of the National Waste Management Strategy published earlier last year.”

A significant amount of beach and harbour litter comprises cooldrink bottles.

“We say cooldrink bottles are the culprits, but actually, it’s because they float. And they often have their lids on – thank goodness. That makes them easily recyclable,” said Porter.

“If they’re on the surface, they can be removed using the booms (placed over rivers to catch litter).”

She said heavier containers, such as shampoo bottles, tended to flow below the surface.

While rains like those KZN has experienced recently may have filled dams, high water often made booms less effective.

“It depends on the debris,” said Sitembiso Sangweni, operations manager at Duzi uMngeni Conservation Trust (Duct), which has booms on the uMngeni River.

“There can be huge trees, even car roofs.”

Sangweni added that most litter came from densely-populated urban areas in the uMngeni’s catchment and was usually due to illegal dumping.

His organisation usually had 16 teams of 11 people in the field tackling alien vegetation and litter, but this was not possible at the moment because “there is an issue with funding”. The money comes to Duct from the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries via Working For Water organisation. Last year the teams had also been restricted by the Covid-19 lockdown, he said.

Plastic recovered at booms is recycled.

Closer to the river mouth, another non-governmental organisation, Durban Green Corridor, operates booms on tributaries of the uMngeni, sometimes harvesting three to four tons of litter a month.

Clear-up and litter boom co-ordinator Siphiwe Rakgabale said lengths of water-resistant rope tied to anchors at either end made it possible for the booms to cope with high water levels. However, these expensive ropes were often stolen, leaving the booms ineffective, he said.

“We shall be working on our relationship with local communities so they can be eyes and ears,” he said.

The Independent on Saturday

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