Pesky pellets: long way to go in huge nurdle hunt
As a huge clean-up continues around the clock, only 14 of 49 tons have been recovered along KZN coast
Almost eight months after 49 tons of tiny plastic pellets poured into the Durban harbour during a violent storm, an intense clean-up operation continues unabated.
The minute pellets – commonly known as nurdles and used in the manufacture of plastic products – have washed up on beaches along the KwaZulu-Natal coastline through to the Eastern and Western Cape.
Disaster struck in the Durban harbour in October 2017 after a massive consignment of nurdles was swept off a ship during a storm.
The spill prompted the South African Maritime Safety Authority (Samsa) to issue a directive to the ship owners of the Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC) to conduct a full-scale assessment.Samsa regional manager Captain Saroor Ali said the MSC had appointed environmental pollution company Drizit Environmental to conduct the massive clean-up.
“Authorities have been working around the clock to retrieve a total of 2,000 bags that were carrying the nurdles lost from containers following the storm.”
The lastest tally showed that only 14 tons of nurdles had been retrieved, including three tons from the harbour, 10 tons by Drizit and one ton by volunteers. An estimated 35 tons are still outstanding.
According to the South African Association for Marine Biological Research, nurdles, pre-moulded and packaged, are not toxic to touch.
“But once released into the marine environment they will, over time, attract harmful substances from land-based pesticides, herbicides and other organic pollutants that end up in the ocean.”
The association warned that nurdles could be harmful to marine life, which they often mistake for food.
“Not only are they toxic, but they cannot be digested, causing digestive blockages, starvation and death. The nurdles never go away, but they break down into tiny pieces that get eaten by even more animals and form part of people’s food,” it said.
Ali said nurdle bins had been placed inland, at various points along the coastline from KwaZulu-Natal to the Western Cape.