Surfers protest dredge disposal

JON HOUZET

ONGOING dumping of dredging spoils in the East Beach dunes has led to Port Alfred surfers laying a formal complaint with the municipality this week.

This follows an e-mail campaign to stop the disposal of dredged silt from the Royal Alfred Marina canals onto East Beach, with some Port Alfred surfers believing the damage done to the dunes has contributed to poor surfing seasons for the past two years.

Leading the campaign is surfer Mike Varela, who submitted photos taken by fellow surfer Jerome Boulle as evidence.

DAMAGED DUNES: Port Alfred surfers are protesting the dumping of dredging spoils from the marina canals in the dunes on East Beach Picture: JEROME BOULLE

“Clearly, this stuff is very slow to break down in the wind and sun, and the accumulation has caused significant damage,” Varela said. “I think it is now appropriate that we call for a rehabilitation project to try and repair this damage.”

Varela spoke out after an initial e-mail by marina resident Warwick Heny, who is secretary of the Kowie Boardriders Club, calling for a debate on relocating the dredge disposal into the rip off the East Pier.

While not against the disposal of the silt on East Beach, Heny felt discharging it adjacent to East Pier could “assist in adding additional sand to our ever-changing sandbank” and help surfing conditions.

“I approached the marina in my personal capacity to see their response to this and I was pleasantly surprised to hear that they are open to suggestions of what to do with the sediment/ sand after it is dredged,” he said.

“The environmental approvals they have allow for it to be dispersed/ pumped into ‘the surf zone’ and this means there are no new EIA’s, etc, necessary in order to do this.”

Rhodes ichthyology professor Peter Britz, also a local surfer, said it would be preferable to deposit the dredged silt into the surf “as the natural aeration of the high energy surf zone would oxidize the anoxic organic matter and disperse it over a wide area”.

But Britz added: “The forces of the waves and tide in the mouth as so massive, and the volume of dredge so small, that we are highly unlikely to see any effect on the banks and mouth – either positive or negative.”

Peter Basett, Royal Alfred Marina Homeowners Association (Ramhoa) committee member with the dredging portfolio, said Heny had no mandate from the surfing community, “nor was his proposal backed by any sort of scientific data”.

“No representations have been made to the marina management and as far as we are concerned, the status quo remains,” said Bassett.

Acknowledging he was no scientist, Varela suggested that the poor surfing season over the past two years could be partially attributed to the silt deposits on East Beach interfering with the natural formation of dunes in that area, and the subsequent decrease in wind-blown sand from which feeds underwater sand banks.

Bassett disagreed there was any correlation between poor surfing conditions over the last two years and the dredging deposits in the dunes.

“The latter has been going on for almost 20 years. If dredging was to blame, surely the effect would have been felt before now?” Bassett said.

Britz agreed with Varela that the accumulated sediment was “ugly and unacceptable” even though he believed there was little ecological impact.

“Seemingly the black organic matter makes a matrix and crust which stops the wind from moving it like the normal dune sand.”

Another surfer, Justin Maddocks, said he was “shocked” when he visited the affected area, and was in full agreement with Varela and Boulle that the “dredging and dumping in the sand dunes must be ceased forthwith”.

The original 2005 environmental authorisation permitting dredging and the deposit of spoils on East Beach was only valid for 12 months from commencement, as was a second record of decision (ROD) in 2007. It is unclear whether Ramhoa received an extension of the ROD to be able to recommence dredging the Kowie.

Ndlambe municipality has not responded to requests for comment.

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