Concerns have been raised after nurdles (plastic pellets) have washed up on some beaches in KwaZulu-Natal.
While the source of these pellets used in the manufacture of plastics is unknown, there are fears about their impact on marine life.
In 2017, there was a huge nurdle spill in the Durban harbour when 49 tons of the pellets ended up in the ocean after two containers were washed off a ship in the port during a storm.
Since then, nurdles have continued washing up along the South African coastline, even reaching as far as the USA and Australia.
Walking on the beach, it is easy to spot nurdles that have recently been washed up.
Londiwe Shezi of the South African Association for Marine Biological Research explains what nurdles are.
“Nurdles are small plastic pellets which get to be used to make any plastic products. These plastic pellets are very small; they are between 1 millimeter to five millimetre in diameter. It is very easy for them to get scattered everywhere, not only in the ocean, but also through transportation, mostly as these plastic pellets come from different countries around the world and get sent in different organisations or companies that make any plastic products.”
Shezi adds that even humans are affected by nurdles through eating seafood.
“It does affect humans as well, but it also affects mostly the animals since it ends up in the ocean, so animals mistaken it for food. Those are animals that would feed on that, when they see objects floating on water to them it does look like food. They will go and investigate because they are curious. They will ingest that, and it will fill their stomachs. They won’t have any needs to actually eat, and then they will end up starving and losing their lives. We do eat seafood, so when we eat those animals that have eaten those plastic pellets, it will then end up in our system, and these pellets do attract some toxins, which end up affecting us a lot as well.”
Environmental organizations have raised concerns over the nurdles. The founder of the non-profit organisation Litter4Tokens, Clare Swithenbank-Bowman, called for the nurdles to be classified as hazardous.
“The chemicals in nurdles obviously litter in the environment, potentially contaminating the seafood and affecting health indirectly. We eat fish and then we are eating plastic that is in the food chain, but if we can prevent spills happening at sea on container ships by mending the IONDG code by making nurdles hazardous materials such as oil, they will be shipped below deck, and then we can actually prevent further disasters and spills.”
The recent high spring tides and massive swells have contributed to the nurdles suddenly washing up along the KwaZulu-Natal North Coast Line.
Environment | Plastic pellets causing harm to KZN ecosystem: