AN EMERGENCY plan to replenish the sand on Durban's rapidly eroding central beaches is set to begin within the next four weeks.
eThekwini Municipality said its plan to focus on the central beaches and beaches near the Pirates Club and Suncoast Casino was necessary to prevent any further damage to infrastructure.
Warnings have been issued for high tides and the municipality is on high alert.
Municipal spokesperson Tozi Mthethwa said the city was engaging with Transnet Dredging Services to find ways in which the beaches could be replenished as current sand pumping could only go as far as Addington Beach.
“They (Transnet) have recommended a temporary offshore pipeline with the dredger discharging sand directly on to the beaches.
"We have a plan in place to nourish the central beaches via the offshore pipeline, using the dredger to directly discharge on to the beaches,” Mthethwa said.
The municipality said it does not pay for the sand received from Transnet and neither does it pay for the use of the dredger, which it shares with other cities such as Richards Bay and East London.
Residents and environmentalists have also raised concerns about the erosion on the central beaches.
Johnny Vassilaros of Save Vetch’s Association said the sand pumping operation was ineffective and this was as a result of a bungle by the city.
He said for decades the city had been operating a perfect sand pumping station until a hopper station (a sand storage facility) was demolished in 2007 in what the municipality said was part of harbour widening.
“The dredger would bring in sand, mainly on the southern tip of South Pier, and pump it into the hopper. The sand would then be pumped along our beachfront. They did this by running a long pipe along the beach with the assistance of booster pump stations along the way, releasing the sand exactly where it was required,” he explained.
However, after the demolition of the hopper station, the city had not commissioned the booster pump stations, meaning sand could not be pumped further than Addington Beach, he claimed.
“I am not sure why they have not commissioned the booster pumps. Perhaps (it's) a lack of funds. But then again, they should have known that without the booster pumps the entire system would be pointless.”
Another problem, Vassilaros said, was that Durban does not have its own dredger and has to share one with other towns.
“We go for months without the use of a dredger and no sand. So when the dredger is in town for a short period, the city takes as much sand as it can,” Vassilaros said.
Mthethwa said the delay in the commissioning of the booster stations was a result of delays in the new hopper station project operated by Transnet.
Mthethwa said, despite this, sand exceeding the minimum quantity required for beach reclamation was being pumped directly by the dredger on to the beaches.
“We are awaiting the construction of the Transnet hopper station which will help us with the sand. The dredger will fill the station and we will have a more consistent sand supply,” said Mthethwa.
The municipality attributed the erosion to inclement weather changes and the over-mining of sand. It said it had asked for a meeting with the Department of Mineral Resources with a view to putting more stringent measures in place before sand mining permits were issued.
“More law enforcement officers will also be appointed and deployed at various areas along the coastline to ensure that sand mining regulations are adhered to,” said Mthethwa.
Environmental activist Desmond De Sa warned that no attempt to try to re-engineer the beaches would work in the long run.
He said the city needed to shoulder the blame for the erosion as it had ignored various warnings from environmentalists and concerned citizens.
“They got rid of all the vegetation and now there is nothing to hold the beaches together. Nature has its own course and no amount of concrete can stop it,” he said.
He warned that the situation was bound to get worse due to climate change. He said pumping sand on to the beach was only a temporary situation.
Surfer Mike Frew warned that urgent action was needed as some of the beaches had become dangerous due to erosion.
“The main thing for me is that it has become extremely dangerous. At low tide, if a person or a young child falls over the promenade they could break their neck because it is just rocks," Frew said.
He urged the city to act before somebody was hurt.
“It is going to take somebody getting killed for the city to act."