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Wavescape - Surfing in South Africa

Thu, 1 December 2016

As Cape Town considers selling the last public space big enough to host a sewage treatment plant, filmmaker Mark Jackson has made a hard-hitting film on the effluent crisis, writes Spike.

Jackson launched his short film 'Bay of Sewage' today, a 12 minute study of the effects of the millions of litres of untreated effluent - including sewage and grey water containing household chemicals and pharmaceutical byproducts - that is pumped into the sea daily around Camps Bay.

The film shows how marine life is accumulating these chemicals and starting to die. The sewage is sometimes washing ashore, putting humans at risk, with obvious implications for tourism and the money and the jobs that come with it.

The story is not new. Capetonians know the issues all too well. The City has continued to deny there is a problem. Water users say it's a problem. A comprehensive study by the CSIR covering a spectrum of related issues (impact on sea life, sediment changes etc) is set to advance the debate considerably, but the results are not out yet.

The City has hosted several discussions, and met with stakeholders around the report, which is set to come out early next year, and it does seems as though the City is beginning to accept the extent of the issue after a public outcry in mid-2015 when photos of sewage spumes by aerial photographer and environmentalist Jean Tresfon were published. It went viral. Social media erupted. There were interviews on radio, coverage by Carte Blanche and newspapers splashed the story.

DSC 2125-Camps-Bay-WAVESCAPE

Beached Poo: Camps Bay with apparent effluent right at the shore. Photo: Jean Tresfon

My investigative piece on Wavescape about the four marine outfalls - City Stink Story - was viewed 60,000 times and received 1,600 shares. This was a record viewership for my website. For good reason. A lot Cape Town residents are seriously worried. Jackson's film again underlines deep concern that a disaster looms when the tipping point is reached unless we completely overhaul our approach to polluting our ocean, as Tresfon told IOL a week ago, “We view the ocean as a source of protein and in most cases you wouldn’t sh** where you eat”.

Tresfon took Jackson up in his gyropter to see the situation for himself, and the movie has now dropped, and doing the rounds on social media.

The city, which tests the water twice a month, has continued to claim that e-coli levels are "within acceptable limits", but some specialists are concerned that bi-monthly sampling is not nearly enough. Things change quickly in the ocean. Two weeks until the next test is too long. Things can change in a few days with shifts in currents and winds.


DAILY TESTS: Water Watch SA has taken the fecal matter into their own hands. Photo: Supplied

This is why the water is being tested every day for three weeks by a new project called Water Watch SA, part of an initiative by Social Weaver, a new media organisation. One of its founders Steve Kromberg said that Water Watch SA, in partnership with Code for Africa, was providing alternative data to the City's testing using drones to track spumes and daily testing around the outfall in Camps Bay. They have already uncovered some scary stats. According to Kromberg, the E. Coli level on Friday 25 November at Clifton 4th beach was more than six times the critical limit.

"One needs some kind of real time alert system. But the problem with ecoli is you can't do an instant test. The quickest turnaround for sample results is 48 hours from the lab," he said. A lot can change in that time, with levels feasibly increasing or dropping significantly between samples.


RISKY SURF: On this day, nearby e-coli levels were 6 times the safe limit. Photo: Steve Kromberg

But having a lead time of two weeks - as the City must contend with - was the main concern for Kromberg. "This doesn't give enough warning about potential issues. When the ecoli goes above a certain level, it triggers an operational alert for the City."

However, if a lot can change in 48 hours, 14 days is a problematic time lapse - the horse and the entire herd could already have bolted, and be in Brazil already if the southeaster was blowing. See the DEA's guildelines for water quality here

The Water Watch SA project coincides with Jackson's documentary launch today, but what is even more serendipitous is that both coincide with an apparently imminent announcement by the City for tender bids to a proposed R1.5 billion development of Maidens Cove, which the City wants to sell off to create the private development of 50 luxury houses, an exclusive hotel, parking garage and shopping centre. See the infographic here

CONTROVERSIAL: The proposed development at Maiden's Cove. Graphic: City of CT

The city says it's just “ideas on the table” but there are real fears that the plan is more advanced than that. Accusations are flying about a cosying up between officials and developers.

Albie Sachs was strongly against the development on Cape Talk back in September last year. Listen to his interview with Kieno Kammies here.

Filmmaker Jackson, who grew up and lives in Cape Town, is also against the land deal. He considers the process of selling off public land illegal and should be immediately stopped. Attention should instead be given to building a treatment works there. Such sewage works need not be seen, or even smelt, as they can now be constructed underground, albeit at a higher cost. And public sports fields and facilities can be reconstructed on top.

He should know. While he is a regular ocean user and environmentalist, he also has a Civil Engineering degree from UCT and understands the challenges we face, and how effluent should be dealt with. He also knows how sea currents and winds work.

sewage outfall
What a sewage outfall looks like: Delray Beach, Florida, USA. Photo: Marine Photo Bank

Jackson thinks we should not shy away from modern engineering projects such as this, particularly when such projects are now being achieved internationally. There are such examples in Taiwan, in Scandinava, in China and in the USA.

"And in fact, we have no alternative. We simply cannot go on pumping raw effluent into our bay. It’s only a matter of time before some people get very seriously ill, not to mention the continued destruction of our precious marine environment."

"This gave me a great perspective to make this documentary, and explain to others what is now going wrong. It was also a chance to show some solutions."

"I know engineers like challenges, and I hope other engineers will look at this, and take up this exciting challenge, and come up with inventive solutions. After all, being inventive is what true engineers love to do."

"I really hope this film catches people's attention, and brings this serious issue into the light, so that we can all deal with it, all start to take more responsibilty for our own waste, and together come up with proper solutions. We can fix this. And we can have a beautiful, sustainable, coastal environment for future generations.”


+2 #9 South Africa DurbanYVETTE 2016-12-08 09:35
This is what is happening in South Africa Durban and the municipality aloud Enviroserv to decant 72 000 000L of high hazardous waste into the ocean. Sea turtles and dolphins breached and only then they've put a stop to it. It is horrible. The 19th International Conference on waste and pollution will be held in Durban January 2017 and I hop they get ideas to do a proper job.
Paul Torrente
0 #8 MrPaul Torrente 2016-12-07 10:51
Very concerning for all Cape Citizens.
Jonathan R
0 #7 Sea point surferJonathan R 2016-12-07 09:35
I got Impetigo on my nose from surfing in Sea point. Regularly get upset stomach from surfing there and ear infections. We need to improve our coastal water quality. This is unhealthy- imagine how the marine life is also affected as this is their home. We are adversely affected from short exposure. They live there!! Engineers make a plan for our city!!
-1 #6 SewerageErrie 2016-12-05 21:02
Thanks for this article bringing much needed awareness and pressure to solve this fiasco.

I have been spending some time in the water on a SUP board and kite boarding in Big Bay and have noticed what appears to be sewerage smells and foam on frequent occasions. I have per occasion also felt ill the day after a water sport session.

Do you perhaps know if this is yet another case like camps bay where sewerage are dumped into the area? And if so if someone is testing the water?

Nick rawlins
0 #5 MrNick rawlins 2016-12-05 18:28
As one of the founders of CapeTown Bodyboarding and lover of the ocean, we all need to play our part in protecting our greatest national resources... our beautiful environment. Clean up on land so as to stop it ending up in our oceans.
-1 #4 MissStef 2016-12-04 06:29
We need to look after the sea- and treat the sewage before it goes in there- if it really needs to at all.

The city should be doing more to figure this out.
Murfey Murdoch
+3 #3 MissMurfey Murdoch 2016-12-02 16:55
I can't believe that in the 21st Century and after all that have accomplished in this world, we are even needing to PETITION this issue!!!! It's been happening for ages??? How can NOTHING have been done about it yet???
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