Plastic pollution is widespread. The Zwartkops estuary is no exception with litter all along the banks especially from fishermen who invariably leave all litter behind. The estuary is also polluted with plastic from stormwater canals and tributaries.
Most people by now should be aware of the devastating impact that plastic has on aquatic life never mind on human beings who consume the fish.
To alleviate this impact, the ZC began collecting litter in the estuary about 13 years ago and has been doing so ever since. In the last 6 years over 62 000 bags of litter, mainly plastic, has been collected. Occasionally dead animals are also washed into the estuary (mainly dogs) and we bury them above the high-water mark.
Our team of litter pickers, usually 4, work 49 weeks of the year. Litter is collected along the entire tidal zone from Settlers Bridge to the power lines just below Sumcay; a distance of about 14 kilometers. We also target adjacent ‘hot spots’ in an effort to prevent litter reaching the river.
In April 2022 we received our second sponsored boat. We called it Whimbrel. It is housed at Tiger Bay. It complements our older boat, Curlew, which is housed in Redhouse. Our boats transport our litter pickers and then collect the bags in out of the way places along the estuary banks and transport them to a point accessible to the Metro for collection.
The major plastic polluter in the estuary is the Motherwell stormwater canal which, unfortunately, is cement lined and after a rain quickly carries all litter straight into the estuary. The canal is fed by a huge network of stormwater drains leading into the canal. Huge volumes of litter are quickly carried into the canal and then down to the river whenever it rains. There are 3 litter traps along the canal but are being redesigned to be more efficient.
The biggest quantity of bags collected in the river near the canal was the result of a downpour on January 5 2017 when 970 bags were collected over a period of nearly 2 weeks. 10 mm of rain usually results in 100 bags of litter on the banks!
We rely heavily on our sponsors; especially Spar since 2016 who have been a fantastic help particularly when we have had to cease operations on the odd occasion due to a shortfall in funding.
We have a group of volunteer skippers who man our boats: Peter Senn and Rod Lochhead who usually skipper Curlew and Carl Welgemoed who skippers Whimbrel.
We are proud to say that thanks to our efforts the estuary is relatively clear of plastic litter!