Clearing up the beaches after the rains is a thankless job

  • 11 May 2016 | Kathy Drummond, co-ordinator Education Support Services | Category: Conservation

Rain! It brings relief, gives life, freshness, a clean slate. It is rightfully celebrated when it falls gently, but perturbing if too much falls since heavy rains bring consequences. One of these is debris, mainly plastic, washed down rivers and storm-water drains into the ocean and finally on the beaches.

The pollution load deposited on Dakota Beach at Isipingo after record-breaking rains in early May 2016

No-one likes a polluted beach so it is up to a small group of people – beach maintenance staff from the local municipalities and staff from the Working for the Coast expanded public works programme to take major responsibility for cleaning the beaches as thoroughly and quickly as possible.

Sunday 9th May saw many of Durban’s beaches being declared disaster zones after islands of plastic accumulated in gyres at river mouths before washing up on the beach. Having worked on the Working for the Coast programme, I have experienced what goes into cleaning up after such heavy rains.

On beaches such as Dakota Beach in Isipingo, beach cleaners are on site from as early as 6am. They are initially issued with 400 bags and may receive another 200 to 300 as the day progresses. First to be collected are the larger items such as plastic bottles and containers followed by  glass bottles and cans.

Kathy Drummond

The smaller items are usually entangled in plant debris so these are removed together using tarpaulins and steel rakes. The debris is raked onto the tarpaulins and hauled up the beach to the edge of the dunes from where bags are filled and stacked for removal.

The removal of these bags of debris continues throughout the day. Bags are generally filled faster than the vehicle can remove them and back-up vehicles often arrive to offer assistance. The tarpaulins take a beating as they are dragged up and down the beach laden with wet, heavy debris. 

The cleaning staff are often heard shouting encouragement to each other as their bodies become tired and weary. It’s physically exhausting work but after a good night's rest they are ready to start all over again the next day as the high tide has once again deposited a beach full of pollution.

It takes days for the pollution load to start decreasing but as the beach becomes more aesthetically pleasing its harder to see the litter. The smaller pieces of litter such as the rings from bottle caps, bottle caps, cigarette butts and miscellaneous pieces need to be picked up by gentle fingers.

It takes thousands of plastic bags and a number of days of very hard work to clean a beach after such heavy rains. We, as a community, are responsible for making the right choice – reduce, re-use, recycle. Litter belongs in the bin.

And lastly, when you are next on the beach and see a municipal or government employee cleaning the beach, go and thank them. They make our world a better place in which to live.

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