Ever heard of a nurdle?
Local residents and organisations in Cape Town have been collecting these teeny plastic pellets over the last few days, as hundreds of thousands of them have been washing up on our shores. These resin pellets are the raw material used in plastic production, and are often transported by ocean going vessels. The mass appearance of these nurdles along the coast occurs when there has been a spill from a transport vessel offshore, with devastating consequences for our marine and coastal ecosystems.
Filter feeding pelagic birds, large mammals such as whales, and turtles and fish are all potential victims of mistaken plastic ingestion – which can lead to digestive blockages and death by starvation. Not only do these plastic pellets get mistaken for food, but they also absorb harmful chemical substances such as fertilizers and pesticides, potentially introducing these pollutants into the marine food web. Because they are so small they are also easily transported by the ocean, and will appear on coasts and beaches hundreds of kilometers away from the spill!
So, what can you do to help? Plonk yourself on one of our beaches (they’ve been showing up mostly along the False Bay coastline) with a bucket and another container, and a fine meshed net if you have one (you could try a fish tank net or even a large tea strainer! otherwise your hands will do) and move along the high tide mark gently disturbing the sand. The pellets have started being trampled and hidden by human and water disturbance so are not immediately obvious! Fill your bucket with water and scoop any sand with particles in it into the bucket – the nurdles and any other small plastic bits will float to the surface. You can then scoop the nurdles with your hands or a small net into another container.
These containers can be labelled with the date and location of collection and dropped at a Shark Spotters centre for research processing purposes with The Beach Co-Op. Thank you to Shark Spotters, the Shark Education Centre & The Beach Co-Op for the early public alert and call to action, as well as the rest of the local organisations and individuals spending time on our beaches clearing the nurdles!