Covid-19 surrealism has ruptured more than our economic and social stability. The environment has also suffered. Quarantine regulations and limits on gatherings, beach activity and exercise have meant fewer voluntary rubbish collectors and the accumulation of more waste than ever along the coast and in the ocean itself.

In addition, ‘corona-time’ has led to an increase in single-use items like disposable masks, gloves, plastic bags and plastic containers.
According to the Sea Save Foundation (seasave.org), eight million tonnes of waste enters the ocean every year. In 2017, the United Nations Marine Conference heard that “as many as 51 trillion microplastic particles, 500 times more than the stars in our galaxy, litter our oceans and seas, seriously threatening marine wildlife”.

Enter the Plastic Patrol’s first organised event of 2020, to be held in the Hermanus New Harbour on Saturday, 11 July from 10:00 – 13:00. The event is being held, aptly, during Plastic Free July (plasticfreejuly.org), a global movement “challenging millions to combat debris by reducing everyday single-use plastic or even going completely plastic-free for the month”.

Plastic Patrol, an initiative of Kim ‘Sharklady’ MacLean, will involve volunteer rubbish collectors, in, on and along the water. “An urgent plastic clean-up is needed in and around the New Harbour,” says Kim, whose mission with Plastic Patrol is to care, protect and educate. “We are proud to announce that our premises at our dive school in the New Harbour will be able to accommodate, post-Covid, 25 children for marine education classes, including how to combat the problems of plastic pollution,” says Kim.

Majestic Cruising crew member Esau Mapindu and skipper Glynn Channer hauling out plastic during a routine daily clean-up in the New Harbour, Hermanus. Photo: Supplied by Majestic Cruising

Harbour Master Nomonde Simon, in charge of the Overstrand’s small harbours, is “fully behind the Plastic Patrol initiative”.

“Plastic pollution is the most widespread problem affecting the marine environment. It also threatens ocean health, food safety and quality, human health and coastal tourism,” he says. “I have seen people, especially kids, swimming in the harbour, along with floating plastic and drinks cans. And there is evidence of this pollution all along the coast, thrown away by people who don’t think about the end results of their careless actions.

“While we at the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries (DEFF) have been involved in many school awareness programmes, more is needed to educate kids about the impacts of plastic pollution in our oceans, which are ingestion, suffocation and entanglements of marine species. We will continue to generate awareness until we get good results!”

While most companies in the New Harbour do their part to keep the environment clean, with the assistance of the few DEFF staff members, their resources are too limited to keep up with the demand for regular refuse removal, especially over weekends, when the bins are usually overflowing. Some restaurants and takeaway spots are still providing their customers with plastic straws and non-biodegradable polystyrene containers, which often end up in the water.

The skipper of Majestic Cruising, Glynn Channer notes: “Citizens should take more responsibility for their own waste and be encouraged to take it home with them. In addition, larger, sealed refuse bins, divided according to waste type for on-site recycling, would suit the harbour environment better, and would be dassie-, bird- and child-proof.

“Every piece of litter we pick up could be saving the life of a marine or land animal. This is what drives me to keep picking up the debris I find,” he says.

Kim assures would-be volunteers that the Plastic Patrol event on Saturday will be responsibly managed with compulsory social distancing, hand sanitisation and mask-wearing. Gloves and collection bags will be provided – one to each volunteer. Everyone will have to sign a register and no groups will be permitted. Volunteers must bring their own masks. Coffee, tea and sandwiches will be served after the clean-up.

Help be part of the solution to plastic pollution! Join the clean-up in the New Harbour on Saturday 11 July at 10:00! See https://www.facebook.com/events/191263718931555

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