KZN Plastic Pellet Clean-up Update

On the 10th of October 2017 Durban Port experienced a catastrophic storm, during which the MSC Suzanna was involved in a collision with the MSC Innes, resulting in the loss of two containers containing plastic pellets (nurdles).

It is estimated that over 2 200 000 000 (49 tons) of these nurdles were released into the Port and subsequently, into the Indian Ocean.

It has been more than 7 months since this ecological disaster, and despite a significant clean-up effort, only 13.714 tons have been recovered to-date, leaving over 1 500 000 000 nurdles still at sea (around 72%).

DRIZIT have deployed over 280 local community members to support the clean-up, from Richards Bay to Durban, and the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) Working for the Coast (WFTC) program deployed an additional 190 workers to support the clean-up operation for a dedicated 3-month period. A total of over 470 people employed over this period and a combined effort of over 23 000 person days. The clean-up efforts continue, with DEA committed to enforcing and supporting a long-term response.

“There is no doubt that the nurdle clean-up efforts will need to continue for months, if not years to come,” said Luvuyo Mlilo, Chief Director of Environmental Protection and Infrastructure Programmes at DEA. Mlilo said that the department has noted the hard work done by all involved and said the department is proud of the partnerships established in the wake of the spill.

“The challenges experienced responding to this pollution event, really highlights the growing scourge of marine plastic pollution. There is a growing global movement of citizens appalled by the state of our rivers and beaches, and shocked by the media coverage of animals suffocating and starving,” commented Dr Andrew Venter, WILDOCEANS. He believes that a radical change is required that will see packaging producers taking responsibility for recovering the packing that they push into the market every day. “Society is getting tired of seeing plastic bags and bottles, chip packets, cans and bottles everywhere.”

According to the journal SCIENCE (February 2015), 8 million metric tons of plastic end up in our oceans every year, which is the equivalent of five grocery bags filled with plastic for every foot of coastline in the world. In 2025, the annual input is estimated to be about twice greater, or 10 bags full of plastic per foot of coastline. So the cumulative input for 2025 would be nearly 20 times the 8 million metric tons estimate – 100 bags of plastic per foot of coastline in the world!

WILDOCEANS will continue to work closely with the South African Association for Marine Biological Research (SAAMBR), DEA and the KZN Waste Network to co-ordinate the nurdle clean-up efforts, whilst continuing to actively lobby for, and support, efforts to effectively address plastic pollution in the ocean.

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