A sea turtle was found dead, trapped inside a car tyre off the African coastline. Picture: Nelli Huie, Sea Shepherd Conservation

Durban - It's a heart-rending sight: an endangered sea turtle, its body trapped in a tyre, floating lifelessly off the coast of Gabon.

The image, captured on Monday during a Sea Shepherd Conservation Society patrol, tells a stark story about pollution and the state of our oceans.

It also comes ahead of International Coastal Clean-up Day on Saturday next week, and serves as a wake-up call, according to South African environmentalists.

Paul Watson, Sea Shepherd founder, said the crew of their motor vessel, Bob Barker, spotted the turtle while cleaning debris floating on the sea surface while anchored off Neves.

"The turtle was trapped inside a discarded car tyre. It's hard to say how long the turtle spent in the struggle to free itself but unfortunately the crew was too late to assist. Once the turtle was removed the tyre was recovered and disposed of. It was a sad occasion," Watson said.

The MV Bob Barker had been on its fourth patrol in the region at the time. As part of Operation Albacore, Sao Tome and Principe had partnered with the Gabonese government to tackle illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing in the Gulf of Guinea.

Joan Porter, director of education at uShaka Marine World in Durban, said the grisly find was a wake-up call and she hoped it would sting people into action.

Porter said turtles were good animals to give us an understanding of the effect litter has on our oceans.

"This is the tip of the iceberg. Now that it has been highlighted, people can see the picture and can relate to it. Normally this issue of pollution is out of sight and mind. There is a whole lot of litter in the sea and on the seabed. It gets thrown up during storms. We don't realise how much litter is out there," she said.

Porter said much of the debris collected during clean-ups along the KwaZulu-Natal coastline after the heavy recent rains could have been recycled.

"The quantity of litter on our beaches coming down from the rivers is a concern. It is a waste of resources when the items could be in recycling projects. The problem is not going to disappear. Plastic does not break down. It eventually gets ingested by sea life with dire consequences," she said.

Often individuals look for big solutions, Porter added, and miracles from beach clean-up collections to government funding. But she said the solution lay with individuals making sure they put litter or waste in bins or collected it for recycling.

Chris Galliers, senior manager for wildlife and conservation with the Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa, said it served as a reminder that people needed to become more responsible. "What we are increasingly seeing is that what happens on land is having an impact on ocean eco-systems".

Douw Steyn, chairman of the National Recycling Forum, said the solution lay in better waste management and creating recycling opportunities - "otherwise waste will end up in the ocean".

"Marine litters starts with land waste," said Steyn, who is also the director for sustainability at industry body Plastics SA.

He said Plastics SA was involved in a number of anti-waste initiatives, some of which they hope to extend to elsewhere in the continent.

These ranged from special bins at popular fishing spots where fishermen were encouraged to leave their old nylon, which posed a hazard to marine life, to a major clean-up campaign starting next week.

A meeting is planned for 6pm on Thursday night at the City of Love Ministries in Rawalpindi Road, Merebank, which will focus on pollution from the Shongweni landfill site, which is making its way into the sea.

South Durban activist, Desmond D'sa, said millions of litres of leachates from the landfill site were passing through the southern sewerage works into the sea at the outfall into the Cuttings Beaches over the next three months. This was in addition to 4.5 million litres dumped every month from the Wasteman Bulbul Drive landfill site.

Leachate is the liquid that drains or leaches from a landfill.

Sea Shepherd's Watson said authorities had found various violations of fishing licences in the four decades of its existence protecting the world's oceans.

The city could not be reached for comment on municipal landfill sites at the time of publication.

Daily News