a A few miles off the coast of Durban, a female humpback whale and her calf – the last of the thousands to migrate along South Africa’s east coast from May to December – splash their fins playfully on the surface of the Indian Ocean.
Deep down, they’re unfazed by the dark brown sheen that sits on the deck of a South African city’s harbor, where gorgeous white yachts worth millions of rands float in waters tainted with human excrement.
“We all call it Sheet Creek,” said Brad Grodler, a 50-year-old boat captain who takes tourists on whale-watching and fishing trips.
since then Deadly floods in April last year The sewage and water system was already devastated, and millions of liters of untreated sewage spilled onto beaches, rivers, ports and the ocean in and around Durban.
Between April and December, many of the city’s beaches – which usually attract hundreds of thousands of tourists in the southern hemisphere summer – were closed after critical levels of pollution. colia bacteria that can cause diarrhea, vomiting, and fever, has been found in water.
Nine months after the floods, environmentalists say pollution remains a major problem.
“We have had mass killings of fish in the Umgeni River system [and in] “It’s mainly because sewage flows into these systems that cause oxygen levels to collapse and fish die,” said ecologist Siraj Baruk.
According to the eThekwini Metropolitan Municipality, which includes Durban, the April floods caused an estimated 800m rand (about £40m) of damage to eight sewage treatment plants. Footage of raw sewage time, solid waste, melted toilet paper and brown sludge in the Umgeni River is still widely shared on social media.
But Durban’s aging municipal hydraulic infrastructure and wastewater treatment plants have been struggling for decades.
Next to the city’s gleaming Nelson Mandela cruise terminal, the Mahatma Gandhi Road sewage pumping station once had History of pump design problems.
Nazir Jamal, a local ecologist who worked with the eThekwini municipality for a decade from 2009, said maintenance issues were not new and that “the signs were there of a failing system”.
The sewage crisis has been exacerbated by South Africa’s energy crisis – specifically the planned nationwide blackouts known locally as load shedding, which can damage pumps at pumping stations.
Several beaches in Cape Town are closed before christmas After, after Electrical faults From load shedding to raw sewage flooding.
For Durban’s tourism and hospitality sector, the sanitation issue has come on top of two years of pandemic disruption.
Not a single beach in the eThekwini metropolitan area has been re-awarded with internationally recognized Blue Flag status for the year 2022-23.
“The number of calls we receive from people looking to come on holiday are worried about coli Luke Thompson, who runs a fishing service in Durban, said:
The situation is exacerbated by the growth of squatter settlements around the city that use rivers and streams to dump waste, vandalizing tools that have been built to catch large solid waste, and theft from pumping stations for metal parts that are later sold as scrap.
“It takes a very long time to fix the infrastructure,” Barouk said. “Some of it has been involved, but there is still a long way to go.”
On December 1, Mxolesi Thomas Kaunda, Mayor of eThekwini, announced his decision Facebook page that Durban’s beaches were “ready to host visitors”. But since then, beaches have opened and closed depending on E. coli levels, leading to confusion for locals and visitors.
Some opposition politicians have questioned the quality of beach tests and urged beachgoers to be careful. However, an eThekwini municipality spokesperson defended the testing system, Tell the local media: “The fact that we closed beaches when the water quality was poor is reason enough that we care about the public. The municipality constantly monitors the water quality on all beaches to ensure the safety of residents and visitors.”
Anja du Plessis, an associate professor at the University of South Africa who has researched water quality trends in the region for more than 12 years, urged authorities to conduct more frequent sampling. “Beaches and rivers with an E. coli count greater than 130 counts/100ml should be avoided,” she said.
The Umgeni River in particular recorded particularly high E. coli readings.
Driving his boat through the murky waters near the mouth of the river, Grodler pointed wistfully to his left. “These are the last mangroves in Durban,” he said. “They are in dangerAnd they just get all this pollution.”
A lone fisherman wades barefoot, casting a net into the water as a burning stench hangs in the air. “It’s absolutely toxic,” Grodler said. “I won’t eat any of this.”