Samples of the plastic nurdles that washed up on Durban beaches on Friday
Samples of the plastic nurdles that washed up on Durban beaches on Friday

#DurbanStorm: Now our beaches are littered with plastic pellets

By Staff Reporter Time of article published Oct 21, 2017

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Durban - Thousands of volunteers are needed to save Durban’s beaches after last week’s storm and extremely rough seas. This is the call from marine biologists after billions of small plastic pellets, known as nurdles, washed up on the beaches.

These are a potential health hazard, warns uShaka Sea World’s Jone Porter. According to a release by the South African Association for Marine Biological Research (SAAMBR), the infestation is a potential environmental hazard that has to be cleaned up. 

“Thousands of hands are needed to collect these along the drift line over the next few days. So, take nets, sieves, colanders, spades and buckets, go down at low tide and try to clear as much of it as you can while it's still new. It makes for a little workout, but will go a long way towards minimising the long-term damage to our marine environment.

“If we all work together, we can help clean these nurdles off our beaches,” Porter said.

These plastic pellets landed on the beaches as a consequence of last week's storm and the extremely rough seas.

Each small granule is half-moon shaped. The specific particles that have washed up on Durban beaches are actually an industrial raw material. They are re-melted and moulded in factories to make plastic products. In themselves, they are not harmful.

But SAAMBR points out “the bad news is that these plastic pellets or nurdles do absorb pollutants such as PCBs and organochlorine pesticides which are extremely harmful to marine life and humans if consumed.

“Nurdles never disintegrate but merely break down into smaller and smaller fragments. The nurdles and the toxins they have absorbed can enter the food chain as they are eaten by fish and other marine animals.”

In light of this serious threat, uShaka Sea World is not only asking residents to help clean these harmful nurdles off our beaches, but is also providing clearly labelled bins at collection points into which beach-goers can deposit any nurdles collected. 

A regular beachgoer, Fred Turck of eManzimtoti, wrote a letter to The Independent on Saturday to describe the ecological disaster he had witnessed unfolding. 

He said he was part of a group that walked on the beachfront last Sunday.

“We came across plenty of plastic pellets on the beach – smooth, round, white, like flattened balls about 4mm in diameter and 2mm thick. There must have been millions, or tons of them, lining the surf zone.

“These pellets were quite possibly washed up after the storm of Tuesday, October 10.  I took a few home and placed them in a strong solution of hydrochloric acid, hoping to simulate the stomach of a marine animal. The pellets did not dissolve, so this means they will probably end up as solids in the digestive systems of these animals. Some will remain there and clog the internals of the animals, while some will be excreted to end up elsewhere in the food chain.

“This is very worrying. The beads may have been washed accidentally into the rivers and/or the sea during a storm, but the original owners (shall we call them the ‘polluters’?) should be penalised nonetheless, for not protecting us and our planet from this mess.” 

uShaka said drop-off points had been created where the public could hand over the collected nurdles.

Independent on Saturday

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