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Ongoing Research.

Our survey results between January 2018 and October 2019 showed that snagged fishing tackle from recreational fishing does pose a Ghost Fishing threat to inshore reef fish.

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Nurdle Wash Up
Finding a solution for recreational fishing pollution

 

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Nurdle Wash Ups in the Southern Cape.

 

In October 2020 evidence of a significant nurdle spill at sea became apparent. The Strandloper Project recorded nurdles on the beach at Nature's Valley when they started their Expedition 2020, a 205km coastal research survey trek between Storm's River and Wilderness. A few days later, in the first week of October, the extent of the spill became apparent with extremely high (1587nurdles / 35cm x35cm quadrant) densities of nurdles recorded on Robberg Beach.

Feature-1

Plettenberg Bay

Nurdle Wash Up.

On the 1st October 2020 the Strandloper Project recorded washed up nurdles on the Nature's Valley Beach.

The initial reaction when we reported the nurdles was that they were a legacy of a spill that occurred off the coastline near Durban in 2017.

However the colour and physical structure of the nurdles indicated that they were derived from a more recent event.

While we have recorded nurdles on our beach surveys, we have never recorded nurdle densities like we did on the 4th October on Robberg Beach.

 

To accurately quantify the density of the nurdle wash up we used a quadrant made up of four linked cable ties to give a standard of 35cm x 35cm. On Robberg Beach we recorded up to 1587 nurdles per quadrant with a mean of 330 nurdles/quadrant.

 

Nurdle Spread.

By the 20th October reports of nurdles came in from Infanta and False Bay suggesting an extensive issue.

Subsequent investigation revealed that the spill occurred either late September or on the first of October, somewhere east of Plettenberg Bay in the Garden Route.

Reports are that up to 6 containers were lost at sea and that potentially two or three containers broke, releasing nurdles into the ocean.

What is a Nurdle?.

Nurdles are the raw ingredient of most plastic items. Comprising a pellet approximately 3mm in size, their design is to facilitate easy transport, handling and measurement in the the plastic production chain.

Nurdle close up

A by product of the petro chemical industry, the colour of the nurdles vary due to the actual chemical composition of the nurdles.

Nurdles are shipped in bulk in containers, packaged in 25kg plastic bags, and are vulnerable to loss overboard in stormy oceans.

 

Feature-2

Southern Cape Nurdle

Dirty Dozen.

One of the methods that we use to survey Micro Plastics on our survey Expeditions is the Dirty Dozen survey, an adaptation of a method devised by the Beaten Path Co in Cape Town.

Our Dirty Dozen survey is a 10m x 2m transect in which we record the number of plastic items found.

Nurdle density on these transects was as high as 2000 nurdles/20m2 with a mean of 450/transect. The lower numbers reflect the difficulty of counting nurdles on the rock sections of shoreline where they trickle between the rocks and can't be seen or collected..

Why are Nurdles a threat to Marine Life?

The size and colour of nurdles is similar to the spawn and larval phases of marine fauna and are often mistaken as food items and ingested in a feeding frenzy.

Stranded turtle hatchlings that have been rescued for rehab have all had micro plastics in their digestive tracts.

Nurdle stomach contents

On our research expedition in October 2020, an autopsy on a White-chinned Petrel revealed that it had a nurdle in it's stomach.

The presence of the nurdle could have resulted in the death of the bird from three methods or a combination of them. Firstly the nurdle could give the sensation of a full stomach which results in the bird not feeding and ultimately dying from starvation. Secondly, nurdles offer and ideal surface for micro organisms to colonise, some of which could be pathogenic to marine fauna. Lastly, the chemical composition of the nurdle can be toxic in the digestive tract, resulting in the death of a marine creature that has digested it.

 

 

Feature-3

Kingfisher Creek

Public Assistance.

The October 2020t nurdle wash up resulted in a sterling effort by members of the public, NGO volunteers and even municipalities to clean the beaches of nurdles..

Mapping the Scale of the Wash up.

To accurately determine the scale of the threat from the nurdle spill and to best plan resources to focus on both clean up and spill capture, it is vital that concise data is collected and we are calling on everyone to become a 'Citizen Scientist'.

When you are next on the beach to either clean up nurdles or merely for recreation, please consider conducting a series of density surveys of nurdles.

To replicate the data, a standard unit of area is required and we suggest that the 'Cable Tie' method is adopted.

Simply link four long cable ties to form a square. This gives a 35cm x 35cm quadrant. For the density survey, randomly place the quadrant on the nurdle slick and count every nurdle in the quadrant.

Nurdle survey

For statistical integrity, please conduct between 3 and 5 quadrant surveys at each site so that we can determine an average density.

For each survey, record the number of nurdles per quadrant, the time and date of the survey and the GPS location and e-mail to Mark at E-mail Strandloper Project

Awash at Sea.

We are currently investigating methods to survey for the nurdle slick at sea and considering how to recover them from the ocean before they wash up on the beach.

In the interim we are requesting that any boats at at sea that encounter a slick of nurdles record the location, date and approximate size of the slick.

Future Threat

Following three nurdle spills globally (two in South African waters and one in New Zealand waters), researchers consider that the largest threat to marine life in the future will be nurdle spills, superceding the threat of oil spills.

Based on the research from these three spills, presentations have be made to the IMO (International Marine Organization) to re-categorise nurdles as hazardous Cargo and that containers transporting them be stowed in the hull to prevent loss at sea. A proposal has also been made to change their packaging to a more robust form.

Details can be sent in an e-mail to Mark at E-mail Strandloper Project

 

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