Surfers adopts anti-litter drive

ICONIC RUN: Participants begin the race in last year’s Surfers Challenge at Kwelera Pictures: STEPHANIE LLOYD
ICONIC RUN: Participants begin the race in last year’s Surfers Challenge at Kwelera Pictures: STEPHANIE LLOYD
The iconic Surfers Challenge coastal race is a much-loved East London tradition, but last year it ran into some criticism after runners left a sea of plastic water sachets in their wake.

This year runners have been implored to hold onto the plastic sachets once they have hydrated themselves before using custom-made 15m-long bins along the route to dispose of them.

There will be fewer watering points this year and a hard-hitting anti-litter campaign will greet participants at registration and along the Kwelera-to-Nahoon route.

So committed are race organisers to eliminating litter that harms marine life that they will place jet skiers armed with fishing nets in the Gonubie and Nahoon rivers to scoop up any discarded plastic before it floats out to sea.

After last year’s race eco-activists Karen Harvey and Caron Williams took Surfers race organiser Neville Wilkins to task, saying it was unacceptable that plastic ended up in the rock pools and the ecologically sensitive surf line between Sunrise-on-Sea and Nahoon.

The women said that despite a post-race clean-up, sachets were still in evidence three months later.

A year later, the two eco-warriors and Wilkins joined forces in favour of the environment and, when the 42nd Discovery Surfers Challenge takes place next Saturday, a range of litter-busting initiatives will have been put in place.

Harvey said she and Williams had introduced race organisers to the national #RunClean campaign which encourages runners not to litter during races.

“Turtles and dolphins think the plastic sachets are jellyfish and so they eat them,” Harvey, a member of the Environmental Education Forum, said.

“It makes them feel full so they stop eating and starve to death. And all because people are too lazy and selfish to think of anything but their own comfort.

“The problem is that runners in general think it is their right to drop as they run and I don’t get that mentality.”

Wilkins conceded that litter had become problematic, despite clean- ups after the event.

“We understood we had a problem before anyone brought it to us,” Wilkins said. “We have latched onto the #RunClean campaign and feel very positive. If we can improve by 50% that will be a great achievement.”

#RunClean initiatives for the 42nd Surfers Challenge include:

lHighly visible #RunClean branding at registration and along the race route;

lThe reduction of water points from the usual six to four. Eliminated water points are ones that led directly onto secluded beaches;

lThe addition of custom-made “drop zone tunnels” of 15 metre-long bins at the end of Gonubie and Bonza Bay beaches;

lTwo jet skiers equipped with fishing nets to catch any errant plastic sachets in the Gonubie and Nahoon rivers; and

lTeams of schoolchildren who will fan out onto the route after the race to pick up litter.

The onus will now be on race participants to hold onto sachets until they can dispose of them in the bins.

“We are banking on their co-operation,” Wilkins said. —