Durban: Despite the excitement of the Sardine Run, KwaZulu-Natal authorities have advised that residents stay clear of eThekwini beaches due to the high levels of E.coli.
A waste and water treatment service company tested beaches and rivers in the region last week. The results were still high.
Msawakhe Mayisela, eThekwini Municipality spokesperson, said the municipality discouraged residents from catching or consuming sardines, as the water is contaminated.
“We advise residents to stay clear of the contaminated water until they are informed otherwise by the City.”
He said the beaches are being monitored and they will communicate when it is safe to return to them.
Mayisela said most of the contamination is from the rivers and streams.
“To a certain extent, the contamination is also a result of the damage caused to our sanitation infrastructure by the recent floods,” said Mayisela.
The municipality said exposure to E.coli could cause illnesses such as gastroenteritis, diarrhoea, typhoid, cholera, and other waterborne diseases.
Greg Thompson of the KZN Sharks Board Maritime Centre of Excellence said sardine movement is unpredictable and is dependent on weather conditions.
Sardines are said to move towards the shoreline only if cool conditions are present. They have been steadily progressing from beaches around the Eastern Cape, downwards. At the weekend they were netted at Margate, with some shoals spotted closer to Durban by Monday.
“There is a possibility that we may see sardines on the Durban beachfront within the next few days but there is no guarantee with sardines.
“They were successful in netting sardines at Isipingo beach on Monday morning but there were also two unsuccessful nets at Toti/Pipeline Beach,” said Thompson.
Meanwhile, John Peter, a fisherman and member of the KZN Subsistence Fisherfolk Forum (KZNSFF), said the toxicity levels present at the beach are a result of poor governance and poor service delivery.
“We’ve had E.coli in our beaches for months now and there is no progress. The government still needs to work on its damaged infrastructure.”
Peter believes this is having a negative impact on the livelihoods of fishermen.
“This sardine run happens only once a year in winter, and there are many people who rely on sardines to survive; for catching, eating and selling.
“We usually have an abundance of other species that come to shore along with the sardines, like shad fish, mullets, kingfish, and a whole lot more.
“It’s sad that we can’t experience the full extent of that abundance. And this doesn’t just affect fishermen. There are fisherwomen and children who are directly impacted by this, too.”
Peter advised against catching sardines this season. “I know that times are really tough but it’s too much of a risk to partake in the sardine run this year. E.coli is linked to diarrhoea and other infections, and it’s not worth risking your health.
"I personally don’t know anyone who is participating this year but if there are people partaking, I can understand the desperation of needing to survive and make ends meet,” said Peter.
Dr David Glassom, a biology lecturer at the School of Life Sciences at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN), said residents should be wary of eating sardines, particularly those caught between the Umngeni River and the harbour.
“If you do, make sure they are gutted. Because sardines are low on the food chain, they won’t have accumulated high levels of other pollutants but I believe E.coli levels are still quite high near the river mouth and as far as the northern beaches,” said Glassom.
According to Talbot, a waste and water treatment service company, E.coli levels were exacerbated by the KZN April floods.
Micole Martens, an expert from Talbot, said the most recent E.coli tests conducted on beaches in eThekwini and surrounding areas were on June 15 by their sampling partner, Adopt-a-River.
She said: “Scientists found similar trends on the eThekwini beaches with higher E.coli levels or poor/polluted water quality seen at Battery Beach and Country Club, trending with previous weeks.
“Rivers, Umgeni and Dusi, last week continued to be in critical condition, with Umgeni River near Riverside continuing to trend in the millions of E.coli counts per 100ml. Recreational water quality limits for rivers and beaches are 400 to 500 counts per 100ml respectively."
She said the risks associated with exposure to E.coli were severe.
“E.coli is a bacteria wherein water presents as a strong indicator of the presence of sewage and animal waste contamination. High E. coli counts can increase your exposure to the pathogens that make you sick. Short-term illness can be diarrhoea, stomach cramps, nausea, headaches or vomiting."