Thousands of KwaZulu-Natal residents, armed with sieves, have united in a bid to rid its coastline of a toxic threat that has contaminated its water and endangered its beaches and marine life.
People have volunteered their time to collect billions of little white plastic pellets called nurdles, which have infested beaches from Richards Bay on the North Coast right through to the South Coast. So widespread is the problem, that it has even hit Port St John’s in Eastern Cape. The total quantity of nurdles is estimated to weigh 49 tons.
The nurdles have the ability to absorb pollutants that are harmful to both marine life and humans if consumed.
“Nurdles never disappear, but merely break down into smaller and smaller fragments. Both the nurdles and the toxins they have absorbed can enter the food chain, as they are eaten by fish and other marine animals,” according to the South African Association for Marine Biological Research (Saambr).
The disaster started when a container containing a cargo of nurdles was swept off a ship in Durban Harbour during devastating storms in October.
According to The Independent, Di Jones from the Dolphin Coast Conservancy warned that the pollution was “comparable to an oil spill. There is a disaster in the making”.
So far, less than 5% of the nurdles that were swept into the sea have been recovered, according to East Coast Radio. Nurdle Clean-up’s Caroline Reid told the station this week that it was “scary” that they had collected such a small fraction.
“We’re mobilising more people. Local and government bodies have been great in mobilising crews,” she said.
The environmental affairs department, while acknowledging and praising clean-up efforts to date, has urged coastal communities to continue pitching in to clean the affected beaches.
“The department therefore would like to commend all persons involved in the response to the incident to date. Members of the public are encouraged to join in and to contribute toward the protection of the coast,” said environmental affairs minister Dr Edna Molewa.
As a follow-up to the insert of a few weeks ago, referring to the levels of radioactive Ruthenium-106, nearly 1000 times higher than normal, I can confirm that scientists using sophisticated climate modelling technology, pinpointed the site where the radiation originated. These experts pointed directly to a site in the South Ural mountains in Russia as the probable location.
The site of the radiation spike is conveniently located at what The Guardian calls a “secretive Russian nuclear facility” named Mayak, which was the home of the top secret Russian nuclear bomb program in the late 1940’s.
On November 21, Russia acknowledged the radiation spike was true, and admitted they’d also detected a 986 times increase in the radioactive isotope near the suspected leak site. It remains to be seen what effect the radiation has on biology.
And, on a related subject, Rodina Energy Group and Enerparc Ag will be working on a $1.2 million project that places one megawatt worth of solar panels in close proximity to the deactivated Chernobyl reactor. Both companies are capitalizing on the Ukrainian government redeveloping and offering around 1,000 square miles of the land for cheap. While the area isn’t safe for farming, it creates an ideal situation for renewable energy, as power lines are still connected in the evacuated zone.
“Bit by bit we want to optimize the Chernobyl zone,” Evgeny Variagin, CEO of Rodina Energy, told Bloomberg. “It shouldn’t be a black hole in the middle of Ukraine. Our project is over 300 feet from the reactor.” Rodina has installed 150 megawatts worth of solar panels in their portfolio.
Both Rodina and Enerparc could develop up to 100 megawatts at Chernobyl. The Ukrainian firms aren’t the only energy companies that are developing in the area. According to Bloomberg, companies from France and China are interested in building solar farms on the redeveloped land. In particular, Engie SA in France is “conducting a pre-feasibility test with a gigawatt-sized project in mind.” It’s been a study since last July to see if the project could work.
Now, let me tell you about the Rooster, which is a new robot from Israeli start-up RoboTiCan that can help reach injured victims of natural disasters where it’s not safe to send a human rescue worker.
Rooster got its name from the fowl’s preference for walking but being able to fly when necessary, Ofir Bustan, RoboTiCan’s COO, told ISRAEL21c. “Most of the time it walks, but when it runs into an obstacle, it can hover and fly.”
That makes Rooster different from most other search-and-rescue robots, which can either walk or fly but not both – meaning they can get stuck or are too high above the ground to search effectively for survivors.
RoboTiCan’s highly manoeuvrable Rooster is one tough bird. The 30-by-40-centimeter robot rolls inside a metal “cage,” which allows it “to take some pretty hard hits,” Bustan says. “It can crash from six meters high and keep on working.”
It’s the robot’s communications that really sets it apart, Bustan explains. A team of Roosters, which can be deployed simultaneously by a single operator, set up their own independent “wireless mesh network” so they can talk to each other and the operator over a distance of hundreds of meters. No need for a cellular connection, which may be offline anyway in a disaster situation.
The operator can also send out a single Rooster and, when it reaches as far into the disaster zone as its communications will carry, send a second Rooster out. The signals will be relayed back to the operator piggyback style. Clever indeed!
HAMNET Western Cape’s end-of-year function was enjoyed by a group of regulars who gathered at the Observatory in Cape Town for a bring and braai on Wednesday evening, at which Grant Southey ZS1GS, Western Cape Regional Director, presented certificates of appreciation to the members, and acknowledged their contributions to the comms needed during the year. Your writer joins him in congratulating these members of HAMNET Western Cape.
Finally, a thought for the day: 100 years ago everyone owned a horse and only the rich had cars. Today everyone has cars and only the rich own horses!
This is Dave Reece ZS1DFR reporting for HAMNET in South Africa.