The East London Aquarium has put out a call for members of the public to collect hundreds of thousands of plastic pellets called nurdles that have washed up on beaches following a spill from a ship during the KwaZulu-Natal storm on October 10.
Dubbed an ecological disaster and an environmental emergency, the small round white pellets, which have been washing up on KwaZulu-Natal beaches over the past two weeks, have now made their way down as far south as Cove Rock, according to East London Museum scientist Kevin Cole.
He said the presence of the nurdles was concerning because they would harm marine animals who could mistake them for food, and, if they were found to be toxic, could also be a health risk to humans who consumed affected fish. While the nurdles themselves are not toxic, they are thought to absorb pollutants.
Buffalo City Metro (BCM) senior manager of marine and zoological facilities Siani Tinley has asked members of the public to collect as many as possible and deliver them to life-guarding facilities or the aquarium.
She said the Friends of the East London Aquarium (Fela) aimed to collect as many of the pellets as possible as part of the new Ocean Lifeline Project which helps marine life.
“To retrieve as large a quantity of nurdles as soon as possible is essential,” said Tinley.
“The aquarium will retrieve and store as much as possible with the aim of weighing the total collected by the public and identifying how much of the spill has been recovered along our coastline through our efforts.”
She asked that nurdles be delivered to the collection points as free from sand as possible to reflect an accurate weight.
Cole said that being less than 5mm meant that nurdles were a “very alarming and menacing threat”.
“Once they enter the ocean, they are difficult to contain because of their small size and the ability to float.”
He said he found nurdles as far south as Cove Rock beach on Saturday.
“I went there hoping not to find them as I thought maybe they would be on the eastern side of East London only, but unfortunately I saw a lot of them on the drift line among the other plastic rubbish in Cove Rock. They are being brought in by the rips,” he said.
“It is very disturbing and is another added environmental challenge. We can ill afford this, what with the plastic pollution that gets washed down our river systems like ear-buds, straws and bags.”
Cole said he had read contradictory reports regarding the toxicity of the small pellets, which are transported to manufacturing companies that use them to make products like plastic straws, spoons, bottles and shopping bags.
“If they are deemed to be toxic, the toxins could be ingested by fish and even if the fish is not affected, the fish could be caught and eaten, which would be a health risk for humans.”
“Irrespective of their toxicity, if they are swallowed by marine animals it will affect their digestive systems.
“They can be mistaken for floating eggs and consumed to the detriment of the animal, causing choking, malnutrition and starvation.”
Glen Eden resident Lisa Cloete, who administers the East London Beach Cleanups Facebook page, said nurdle clean-ups took place in Queensberry Bay and Bonza Bay this weekend. — email@example.com