#03 2021

Operation Clean Spot: SAEON adopts coastal area and pledges to keep it clean

By Paula Pattrick, Nozipiwo Hambaze and Tommy Bornman, SAEON Elwandle Node

South Africans generate roughly 42 million tonnes of general waste every year (DEA, 2018), the majority of which is plastic. Roughly 80% of marine pollution originates on land (UNEP, 2020). Every year between 15 000 and 40 000 tonnes of plastic enter the oceans that surround the country (Verster and Bouwman, 2020). 

Littering and dumping is common in South Africa (DEA, 2018) and despite many years of education and awareness campaigns, litter remains a significant contributor to aquatic pollution (Verster and Bouwman, 2020; Weideman et al., 2020).

Intercepting this waste before it reaches the sea would greatly reduce litter loads in coastal waters.

With more than 90% of the area littered with household waste, and scientists undertaking regular field trips to the area, “adopting” this spot was an obvious choice (Photo: SST)

During the clean-up 11 black bags of waste totalling almost 90 kg were collected (Photo: SST)

Operation Clean Spot 

The Sustainable Seas Trust (SST) launched Operation Clean Spot in 2021 with the aim to reduce the amount of waste in the Nelson Mandela Bay Metro before it reaches the sea. The idea behind the initiative is for an organisation to “adopt” an area and make regular clean-ups of litter in that designated area.

The SAEON Elwandle Node adopted the Flat Rocks coastal area in Summerstrand and pledged to keep that spot clean. During the launch week (19–25 April 2021) of Operation Clean Spot, 25 staff, students, family members and learners from the SAEON Elwandle Node, SST, the South African Institute for Aquatic Biodiversity (SAIAB) and Lungisa High School joined forces to collect waste from “our” spot. The clean-up coincided with Earth Day celebrations during that same week.

Not only is Flat Rocks a popular public beachfront area for the citizens of Gqeberha, but has historically, and to this day, served as a popular area for scientific study. With more than 90% of the Flat Rocks area littered with household waste, and SAEON and SAIAB scientists undertaking regular field trips to the area, “adopting” this spot was an obvious choice.

During the clean-up on 23 April 2021, a total of 11 black bags of waste totalling almost 90 kg was collected. More than 8 500 bottle caps were removed within an area the size of two soccer fields. The figures are staggering and, unfortunately, a regular occurrence in the area.

Learners from Lungisa High School collect waste (Photos: SST)

After the clean-up, all data including number of bags and total weight of litter collected, types of litter cleaned up and recyclable items collected was uploaded onto the SST website and the photos and results shared with the general public (https://sstafrica.org.za/my_map/CleanSpot.html).

This initiative by SST and the minor contribution by SAEON will hopefully assist South Africa to achieve its targets under Sustainable Development Goal 14.1, to prevent and reduce marine pollution by 2025, as well as Sustainable Development Goal 6.3, to improve water quality by 2030 through reducing pollution. South Africa needs to reduce plastic entering the environment by reducing illegal and informal dumping, effectively implementing and improving waste management infrastructure and intensifying long-term awareness and education campaigns (Southall, 2018; Verster and Bouwman, 2020).

Thanks go out to all those who gave up on their time to clean the spot and to the SST for this worthwhile initiative.

A short video feature of the day can be viewed at https://stratus.saeon.ac.za/index.php/s/HNNmxcpBg5BYY5W

Further reading  

Department of Environmental Affairs. 2018. South Africa State of Waste. A report on the state of the environment. First Draft Report. Department of Environmental Affairs. Pretoria. 68 pp.

Southall, R. 2018. Littering in South Africa is the expression of wider selfish – and costly – culture. The Conversation, 9 May 2018. https://theconversation.com/littering-in-south-africa-is-the-expression-of-wider-selfish-and-costly-culture-96186

UNEP. 2020. South Africa aims to stop marine litter at its source, 4 September 2020. https://www.unep.org/news-and-stories/story/south-africa-aims-stop-marine-litter-its-source

Verster, C. & Bouwman, H. 2020. Land-based sources and pathways of marine plastics in a South African context. South African Journal of Science 116:7700. https://doi.org/10.17159/sajs.2020/7700

Weideman, E.A., Perold, V., Arnold, G. & Ryan, P.G. 2020a. Quantifying changes in litter loads in urban stormwater run-off from Cape Town, South Africa, over the last two decades. Science of the Total Environment 724:138310. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2020.138310