Sewage, chemical spills undermine environmental groups’ KZN marine clean-up

The disastrous chemical spill in July and constant sewage spillages into rivers and the ocean along the KwaZulu-Natal coast are undoing work of environmental groups to protect marine life.

Durban North beaches have been closed since July after the premises of UPL, which contained about 1 600 types of herbicides, pesticides and fungicides, was torched during the violence and looting in KwaZulu-Natal in July. Beaches, fishing and the use of any marine resource remains prohibited.

“An entire ecosystem, which includes the oHlanga tributary, the uMhlanga estuary, the beaches and the coastal environment, not only in the vicinity of the UPL, but for several kilometres to the north of the uMhlanga estuary mouth, has been seriously affected and may take several years to recover,” said Barbara Creecy, the minister of forestry, fisheries and the environment.

She said the UPL factory had been operating before the July incident without environmental authorisation and had not obtained a critical risk assessment and planning permission.

Another disaster along the KwaZulu-Natal coast are the regular sewage spills. 

Beaches from uMgeni River to Salt Rock were closed ahead of the Heritage Day long weekend in September after it was found that E coli levels were “beyond normal”.

The spokesperson for the eThekwini municipality, Msawakhe Mayisela, said: “All the leaking was because of a pump that was malfunctioning because of vandalism, so every­thing is clear now.”

Sherelee Odayar, of the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance, said sewage spillages were occurring often because of a lack of maintenance.

“Even if there are groups and organisations committed to protecting marine life, it is going to defeat the purpose if our sewage system is not properly maintained by our municipality,” she said.

Harbours and beaches along the KwaZulu-Natal coast are among 41 marine protected areas (MPAs) in South Africa. An MPA is a specially protected area of coastline or ocean that helps promote the sustainability of fisheries, keep marine ecosystems working properly and protects the range of species living there.

MPAs need to be inclusive of residents to address problems in these areas, said Judy Mann, of the South African Association for Marine Biological Research. The association has a coastal clean-up every September to remove waste that makes its way into the ocean.

“The coastal cleanup is becoming more important because we’ve realised that the ocean absorbs the waste which ends up being found in fish for instance. This is not just plastic waste but also carbon waste that causes damage to marine life,” said Mann.

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Marcia Zali
Marcia Zali is an award winning journalist

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