STOP! : Survey Techniques for Observing Plastics

The year has started off with a big bang, as PhD Steve Allen of the Blue Charter Fellowship, Dr Deonie Allen and Kerry Moss shed light on the plastic crisis in Africa. Right now only four percent of the published plastic research in the world is on Africa. So, off they went to take a look at creating a baseline of how much Micro- and Macro-plastic is found in the rivers, banks, and coastal areas of Port Elizabeth. The idea is to design a simple protocol, where they work with the Sustainable Seas Trust in undertaking an African wide river-to-the-sea focused plastics assessment.

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This simple protocol incorporates 2 methods of collecting plastics data; the RIMMEL plastic pollution monitoring app, and a net. The net is a 2 x 1 meter ree-bar frame with 2 mm mesh, which is suspended from a river bridge into the river with floating rope. The net is fastened in place and monitored for 2 hours over the fastest outgoing tide. While the net is in the water, the team recorded plastics floating down the river with the RIMMEL app. The Swartkops River Estuary was their first site. Stationed on the Wyle Colour Bridge, roughly 10 km from the river mouth, they began quantifying the plastics found in rivers and bank. During their time on the Wyle Colour Bridge, a few of the locals approached the team to express their interests in having a clean environment and concerns with the state of the Swartkops River Estuary. Once the 2 hour bridge survey was completed, they moved onto surveying along the banks of the Swartkops River Estuary.

Although the project is still in the early stages, the team found 80 pieces of macroplastics floating down the river per day with the RIMMEL App, and 3000 Macro-Micro plastic pieces moving out of the river per day with the net. Along the bank they discovered 5 pieces of plastic per square meter of which 80% was food packaging (sweet wrappers, celophane, chip packet pieces etc.).

Steve, Deonie and Kerry have since moved onto the Sundays River and will include the Baakens Valley River in their surveys. This data will feed into adapting mitigation strategies for cleaning up the rivers, banks and coastal regions of Africa with local community engagement and waste education. As Steve said, if the bath tub is overflowing, you don’t reach for a mop, you turn off the tap.

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