The national lockdown offered the City of Cape Town, in partnership with the National Government and the University of Cape Town, a unique research opportunity to learn more about litter on our beaches.
The research opportunity was unique because of the complete absence of beachgoers for the first time ever, due to the lockdown regulations. The City’s Environmental Management Department and the National Government’s Working for Coast Programme partnered with Prof. Peter Ryan’s research team from UCT to make maximum use of this time to learn more about beach litter and where it comes from.
A study was done along the 250m of Table Bay, Milnerton. It was the same site where they have comparative data for 1994/95, 2012 and 2019. The study was done at two 400m stretches of beach on the northern False Bay coast, one at Muizenberg and one east of Sunrise Beach.
Two teams were issued with permits so that they could legally work along these sections for the last 10 days of the Level 5 lockdown – from 22 April to 1 May 2020; and throughout Level 4 of the lockdown.
They collected litter every morning. Each item of litter was washed and dried. They were then categorised in terms of the type of material and weighed. Astonishingly, the oldest item that the team found was a soft drink lid manufactured in 1993. Also, in many cases, it was possible to identify the country of manufacture. Most of the identifiable litter came from local sources (about 94%). As for the rest, the incidence of Asian items was most pronounced among rigid plastic items such as bottle lids and high-density Polyethylene (HDPE) bottles, which can drift long distances at sea. Many more foreign lids carried goose barnacles and bryozoans (81%), indicating they had been at sea for some time, unlike lids from South Africa (8%). Indonesia was the source of most of these items.
City’s Mayoral Committee Member for Spatial Planning and Environment, Alderman Marian Nieuwoudt, explained that the waste that is left on land will eventually end up in the ocean.
“Thus, if you throw your cigarette butt in the street and a chocolate wrapper out of the car window instead of in the bin, it is likely to end up in a storm water pipe and eventually drain into the ocean. The pollution of our natural environment is everybody’s business, and we all need to do our part to protect our rivers, canals, wetlands, and ocean.”
The research provides a baseline against which we can estimate the impact of beachgoers on litter loads in future. The research provide novel insights into the four main sources of beach litter, namely:
“This research is crucial as it will help us understand where plastic and other pollution in the ocean come from. By identifying the sources of pollution, we can develop and implement programmes and actions to address this problem.”
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