An annual Cape Town paddle event has exposed shocking levels of pollution in the city’s rivers, lakes and canals. The Peninsula Paddle, which happened in September 2019, has been going since 2010. Its objective is the assessment of the state of Cape Town’s waterways between the suburbs of Woodstock and Muizenberg.
Since the event’s inception, the City of Cape Town and the Invasive Species Unit have made inroads in addressing the ever-present problem of solid waste pollution, as well as alien water plants. However, paddlers were appalled by the amounts of pollution they came across on their recent journey. A massive patch of garbage in the Black River was of particular concern.
Plastic pollution and water hyacinth suffocating the Black River
Dr Kevin Winter, one of the founders of the initiative, says that they were “flabbergasted” by what they saw during their paddle. “We had to dodge all kinds of things – dead dogs, dead cats, crazy stuff… people won’t believe what ends up in those rivers and canals,” he says.
Winter, an environmental scientist at the University of Cape Town, is also a water expert at the university’s Future Water Institute. He said that the team was especially shocked by the plastic pollution and water hyacinth suffocating a section of the Black River. “It is the worst we’ve ever seen. It’s just a sea of plastic,” Winter says.
According to Winter, the Steenberg canal was also in an extremely worrying state. “I don’t think we’ve ever seen it this bad – just entire islands of trash that we were paddling through – or walking through, because paddling wasn’t possible,” he recounts.
Water samples collected discovered that the E.coli bacteria in the water exceeded 1 million colony-forming units (cfu) per 100 ml. Winter said that recreational users should not be exposed to more than 1 000 cfu per 100 ml. He expressed concern about the risks to anyone who comes into contact with this water. “It’s absolutely appalling. We were paddling in raw sewage at one point,” he states.
Waterway pollution will end up in Table Bay after rainfall
Winter cautioned that this pollution would end up in Table Bay with the next rainfall – unless urgent action was taken. “When it goes out to sea, we think we’ve lost it altogether, but we need to think again. If we pollute our oceans, how can we expect to run desalination plants? How can we be expected to create drinking water from polluted water? It’s insane,” he cautions.
Winter adds that he hoped calling attention to this worrying situation would be a wake-up call for the city, but also for residents who discard waste into the rivers, adding to the pollution. “The city’s health is reflected in its waterways. What I mean by that is, when you look at rivers like these, it shows that our city is really unhealthy,” he concludes.
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