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Strandlopers assess coast

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Micro plastic collected from a 10 m “Dirty Dozen” transect on the Strandloper team’s 2020 expedition.
Micro plastic collected from a 10 m “Dirty Dozen” transect on the Strandloper team’s 2020 expedition.

A group of eco-volunteers from the Strandloper Project based in Sedgefield have set off on a hike from Arniston to Hermanus to gather information about plastic pollution along the coastline.

The team consists of team members Melinda Morkel, Amanda Dixon, Chris Leggatt, Lisa Leslie, Jonathan Britton and Mark Dixon who is the expedition leader. They set off on their third coastal research expedition from Agulhas on 10 October and are expected to reach Hermanus by 19 October.

Along their hike of 165 km they will focus on mapping the distribution and densities of washed-up plastic pollution and fishing debris. They anticipate that the gathered data will offer an insight into the type and origin of micro-plastic and plastic pollution along the southern shoreline of South Africa.

From the previous two expeditions they have been able to demonstrate that over 90% of plastic pollution in the Southern Cape, especially micro-plastics, are from inland sources, flowing down rivers and municipal infrastructure, like storm water drains and effluent outlets, into the ocean. As a result of lower rainfall in the recent drought cycle, when most rivers in the Southern Cape had been closed by a sandbar, they were even able to identify which rivers lose the most plastic into the ocean.

Mapping the distribution of washed-up fishing gear (trawl nets, longline ropes and crab pots) in relation to marine protected areas, the Strandloper Project has been able to show which MPA’s are targeted by commercial fishing activities, with unpatrolled MPA’s having the highest density of washed-up fishing debris, adding a possible threat to the marine biodiversity in the very areas proclaimed to protect them.

Expedition leader, Mark Dixon, says he is interested in the results from the upcoming expedition, particularly the area as they round Cape Agulhas where the Agulhas and Benguela currents meet.

He explains that a large percentage of washed-up micro plastics are the result of plastic items being macerated by pumps in sewage and water treatment facilities and then being released into the ocean from municipal infrastructure.

Dixon says the Strandloper Project is excited to collaborate with Brenda Walters from the Dyer Island Conservation Trust that has implemented ground breaking work on testing and installing filters and barriers to reduce the loss of plastic from municipal infrastructure into the ocean.

“The threat of plastic to marine life is overwhelming.” he says. “While the public have the misconception that most plastic is ‘Ocean Plastic’, the reality is that the primary consumption and disposal of plastic products is by land-based populations. Until plastic consumption habits are modified, we have to continue to gather data that will assist in how their disposal is better managed and how we can prevent it from flowing into the ocean.’

As the Strandloper Project relies on donations to do their work they have set up a Go Fund me crowd funding account.

You can follow the Strandloper Project expedition progress and daily updates on their social media platforms on Facebook and Instagram or visit their website www.strandloperproject.org for more info.

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