70 years of helping people to care for our ocean


By: Judy Mann

Nurdling, the process of painstakingly removing tiny pieces of plastic from beach sand, has taken the East Coast by storm. This action follows the Durban harbour spill of 49 tons of nurdles – small plastic pellets that serve as a raw material in the manufacture of plastic products – during a severe storm in October 2017.

Since the spill, hundreds of people, from Sodwana Bay in the north to Mossel Bay in the south, have spent time on the beach carefully sieving sand to remove nurdles from the environment. While not toxic in their raw form, nurdles, as with all plastic, break down into smaller and smaller pieces, attracting and concentrating harmful substances such as pesticdes, herbicides and other organic pollutants to toxic levels in the process.

Plastic is eaten by many marine animals, as they cannot differentiate between their food and the tiny pieces of plastic mixed up with their food. This is especially true for the filter-feeders that sieve their food out of the water. Animals ranging from anchovies and sardines to enormous humpback whales and whale sharks are all filter-feeders.

So, in addition to helping marine life, what are the unexpected benefits of nurdling? Well nurdling is getting people out into nature, and getting out into nature is good for you. Research indicates that there is a widening gap between people and nature; in fact, they have even named it “the nature-deficit disorder”. The average urban dweller spends very little time outdoors. We are either in front of a screen – television, computer or cell phone, or in our cars or sleeping.

But scientists around the world are proving that spending time in nature is very good for you, in fact it is actually essential for a normal, healthy life. Being out in nature helps to reduce stress levels, lowers heart rate and blood pressure, improves creativity, decreases mental fatigue and generally makes us happier. The restorative effects of the natural world are physical and mental, and apply to adults and children. When last did you take the kids out to play in nature?

So, get out onto the beach, have some fun, play with your kids and do some nurdling, not only will you help the environment – but it’s really good for you too! All you need is a sieve, pool net (minus the long pole) and packets to collect your nurdles in.

Nurdle drop-off points:

  • Outspan Inn, Port St Johns
  • Offshore Africa, Port St Johns
  • M&R Mechanical Workshop, South Port
  • Buccaneers, St Michaels, KZN South Coast
  • Aliwal Dive Centre, Aliwal Shoal
  • Durban Undersea Club, Vetch’s Beach, Durban
  • uShaka Marine World – ticketing
  • Afro’s, Durban
  • Circus Circus Cafe North Beach, Durban
  • California Dreaming – Durban Beachfront Restaurant, Durban
  • Umhlanga Rocks Surf Lifesaving Club
  • Cabana Beach Resort, Umhlanga – towel kiosk
  • Zinkwazi Skiboat Club
  • Umlalazi Nature Reserve, entrance gate, Mtunzini