Events like the storm of October last year that sent nurdles into the ocean and the destructive high tides of 2007 are triggers for people to remember ongoing issues affecting the ocean.
“People have short memories,” said Oceanographic Research Institute coastal scientist Bronwyn Goble. “There is a lot of effort to clean things up when things happen, then they forget.”
The big issue, she said, was unwanted plastic from inland constantly entering the ocean, particularly when rivers are in flood.
Plastic items break down into microplastics and have the same impact on marine life as nurdles.
“They act as bio-accumulators, absorbing toxins like pesticides that may be in the water, acting like sponges.
“Fish mistake them for food,” she said, adding that bigger species then eat those fish and eventually the toxic plastic may even make its way into humans.
More than 20 tons of nurdles have been collected on KwaZulu-Natal beaches in the past year, estimated to be about a third of the total that fell from a ship in the October 10 storm.