UPDATE (26 Oct 2018): One billion nurdles are washing up on the shores of Western Australia, from the plastic spill that took place in Durban, South Africa, last year. These nurdles have been tracked back to Durban because of their unique chemical signature and are providing us with an important lesson about how a localised disaster can have significant global impacts.

The 2017 KZN nurdle disaster:

By now you’ve probably heard about the environmental disaster that occurred in KwaZulu-Natal when hundreds of millions of little round, half-moon shaped plastic “pellets”, known as nurdles, began washing up on beaches around Durban. Within days it was evident that this was only the tip of the iceberg and that the province’s marine life was under threat, from Amanzimtoti and Umkomaas, right through to Richards Bay.

Photo courtesy uShaka Sea World

Most if not all the news articles on the issue so far have hinted or suggested that the nurdle spill occurred when a container fell from a ship during the extreme weather experienced along the KwaZulu-Natal coast on 10 October 2017.

What is a nurdle? A nurdle is a very small pellet of plastic which serves as raw material in the manufacture of plastic products.

The South African Association for Marine Biological Research (SAAMBR) has sent out an urgent appeal for beach users along the entire South African coast to try and assist in collecting as many of these nurdles as possible. This is important not only to try to minimise the damage caused, but also to assist SAAMBR with essential microplastic research. They will be running a project over the next month to assess nurdle distribution on the beach and will be studying the stomach samples from local fishes to determine if nurdles are being ingested.

According to SAAMBR, the pellets will very easily make their way into the food chain of many marine species, which could easily mistake the tiny pellets for eggs or similar food. These nurdles can and do absorb pollutants like polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and organochlorine pesticides, which are highly toxic to marine life and humans when consumed.

Fundamentally, we have an enormous ecological disaster on our hands, which could easily be compared to an oil spill in terms of its possible impact on our marine species, not to mention the effects this could have on humans who may be consuming toxic fish a little further on down the road.

Bring us your nurdles!

Along with several participating organisations, including PAAZA-accredited aquariums uShaka Sea World in Durban, East London Aquarium, Bayworld Oceanarium in Port Elizabeth and the South African Shark Conservancy in Hermanus, we would like to appeal to anyone in Cape Town – beachgoers, surfers, paddlers, fishers – to please help and collect as many plastic nurdles off our beaches as possible. You can drop your nurdles off with us daily between 9:30am and 6pm.

  • Comb your local beach and collect samples of nurdles. Rinse sand sample in a bucket (of seawater) and the nurdles will float to the surface and can be collected by hand.
  • Place the nurdles into a cardboard box (plastic will contaminate the sample) with the date of collection and general geographic location.
  • Fishers can also gut their fish and place stomachs/intestines into labelled and sealed packets, adding the date of collection and general geographic location to the packet.
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