Looting fires poison lagoon
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eThekwini Municipality has closed its beaches north of the uMngeni River estuary after water contaminated with dangerous chemicals when firefighters had doused a blaze at a factory that had become prey to last week’s looting and arson washed into the ocean.
South African Association for Marine Biological Research conservation strategist Judy Mann told the Independent on Saturday that many young fish that would have used the lagoon as a nursery had died.
Species include spotted grunter, perch, tilapia, mullet, moonies, blacktail as well as crayfish and octopus from the surf zone.
“The closure will affect Beachwood, Virginia, Glenashley, La Lucia, uMhlanga Main and Bronze, Umdloti, La Mercy and Tongaat beaches, inclusive of tidal pools. Authorities are engaging with other local municipalities further north as a precautionary measure,” the city said in a statement.
“The public is advised to avoid the beach area at this time until it is deemed safe.”
According to the city, extensive environmental effects are being reported at uMhlanga lagoon and beaches in the vicinity and these have contributed to killing numerous species of marine and bird life.
“The pollution is considered serious and can affect one’s health if species are collected and consumed. Lagoon and seawater contact must also be avoided.”
The pollution, reported to have also caused a massive stench, shocked beachgoers, fishermen and surfers.
“Some residents in areas north of Durban are also reporting smoke residue from burned chemical products,” the city said.
“The public can only smell it from time to time depending on the wind direction as it dissipates. Residents are advised to close windows and doors and put wet cloths over vents until smoke clears as a precautionary measure.”
It is believed that people tried to close off the uMhlanga estuary into which it had flowed, having come down the uMhlanga River.
Oceanographer Lisa Guastella said the lagoon had opened on Tuesday.
“The problem will be the next flush of rain, which could bring down more (pollution). There is probably more in the water system.”
Guastella would have preferred it had the estuary been blocked, which would have prevented the sea from being polluted, saying it had been “sacrificed anyway”.
However, she said the pollution now appeared to be being diluted in the sea in slow-moving northward currents.
A scientist said that given that the lagoon was already open, sending the bulk of the water out to sea, not blocking the lagoon entrance was “the lesser of two evils”, adding that further pollution would have affected a delicate ecosystem in a protected area.
The Independent on Saturday