#Nurdle spill washes onto beaches

SMALL plastic pellets known as nurdles have washed up along the coastline and appeared out at sea between Richards Bay and the Eastern Cape in their billions, after a spill at Durban harbour during the 10 October storm.

Athlone Park resident, Fred Turck penned a letter to the Sun after he encountered what seemed like millions while he was out walking along Durban beachfront on the morning of Sunday, 15 December.

Fred said he’d placed the small discs, which were about 4mm in diameter and 2mm thick, in a solution of hydrochloric acid, hoping to simulate the stomach of a marine animal.

“The pellets did not dissolve. This means they will probably end up as solids in the digestive systems of these animals. Some will remain there and clog or irritate the internals of the animals, while some will be excreted to end up elsewhere in the food chain,” he said.

In industry nurdles are melted and then moulded to make plastic products.

According to uShaka Marine World’s Jone Porter, the lentil-sized pellets absorb pollutants such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and organochlorine pesticides which are extremely hazardous if consumed. Nurdles have dotted the main Durban beach shoreline since the storm on Tuesday, 10 October and while they aren’t harmful in themselves, the raw industrial material absorbs hazardous substances which in turn pose a threat to all any life that ingests them. Experts say this spill is a disaster in the making, with some negative effects becoming evident years from now.

Porter explained that nurdles never disintegrate completely but merely break down into minute fragments. Both the nurdles and the toxins absorbed can then enter the food chain when eaten by fish and other marine animals.

“This is a monumental problem because the worn-down microfragments block filter feeders and clog respiratory gills,” said passionate KZN conservationist, Caroline Reid who is planning the Coastwatch KZN clean-up on Sunday at uShaka Beach. “If the nurdles contain additives then the toxicological aspects will take a toll along the food chains.

It also looks just like fish eggs, which impacts birds as well as marine animals. The peak impact will affect the species at the top of the food chain, including humans, due to biomagnification. This is not just about litter.”

Whole bags of nurdles have been found washed up along the coastline. The public are urged to not open the bags but drop them off at one of the designated drop-off points instead, as well as any scattered nurdles that they collect along the shore.

“It is vital that the amount of collected material is recorded so we know exactly how much is still out there,” said Caroline. “It cannot be sold to recyclers as it is contaminated with both sand and salt so they can do nothing with it and it will end up in landfill and because of the size, will almost certainly then end up back in the ocean.”

If visiting Durban and surrounding beaches, the public are urged to take nets, sieves, colanders, shadecloth, spades and buckets and at low tide try to clear as much of the industrial material as possible.

Labelled bins are placed at collection points into which beachgoers can deposit any nurdles collected. Drop-off points include uShaka ticketing office, Surf Riders, Afros, Wedge Beach lifeguards and California Dreaming. uShaka Sea World will collect the nurdles for disposal too.

If the public has information about where nurdles have been sighted, upload the details at www.coastkzn.co.za. Include the name of the beach/estuary, date, time, GPS reference and related photos. This will assist with tracking their movement and coverage.

The Coastwatch KZN portal is managed by the Oceanographic Research Institute (ORI) and is an initiative in collaboration with the KZN Department of Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs (EDTEA).

 

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  AUTHOR
Holly Konig
Journalist

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