Thousands of KwaZulu-Natal residents, armed with sieves, have united in a bid to rid its coastline of a toxic threat that has contaminated its water and endangered its beaches and marine life.
People have volunteered their time to collect billions of little white plastic pellets called nurdles, which have infested beaches from Richards Bay on the North Coast right through to the South Coast. So widespread is the problem, that it has even hit Port St John's in Eastern Cape. The total quantity of nurdles is estimated to weigh 49 tons.
The nurdles have the ability to absorb pollutants that are harmful to both marine life and humans if consumed.
"Nurdles never disintegrate, but merely break down into smaller and smaller fragments. Both the nurdles and the toxins they have absorbed can enter the food chain, as they are eaten by fish and other marine animals," according to the South African Association for Marine Biological Research (Saambr).
The disaster started when a container containing a cargo of nurdles was swept off a ship in Durban Harbour during devastating storms in October.
"We're mobilising more people. Local and government bodies have been great in mobilising crews" – Caroline Reid of Nurdles Clean-up
According to The Independent, Di Jones from the Dolphin Coast Conservancy warned that the pollution was "comparable to an oil spill. There is a disaster in the making".
So far, less than 5% of the nurdles that were swept into the sea have been recovered, according to East Coast Radio. Nurdle Clean-up's Caroline Reid told the station this week that it was "scary" that they had collected such a small fraction.
"We're mobilising more people. Local and government bodies have been great in mobilising crews," she said.
The environmental affairs department, while acknowledging and praising clean-up efforts to date, has urged coastal communities to continue pitching in to clean the affected beaches.
"The department therefore would like to commend all persons involved in the response to the incident to date. Members of the public are encouraged to join in and to contribute toward the protection of the coast," said environmental affairs minister Dr Edna Molewa.