Worry over Durban North beach closures due to the chemical spillage
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DURBAN - TOURISM bodies have raised concerns about the ongoing closure of Durban North beaches due to the chemical spillage that occurred as a result of a fire that engulfed a warehouse during the unrest.
The spill, from the UPL warehouse, contaminated the Ohlanga River and uMhlanga Estuary, which leads to the sea in the uMhlanga area.
Authorities said they closed the beaches as a precautionary measure as it was not known how far the contamination had spread, what chemicals had leached into the sea, and what effect it would have on human health.
UMhlanga Tourism said the ongoing closure was devastating to the tourism industry, adding that the closure of beaches was having a huge impact on the economy of the area.
Chairperson Heather Hunter said almost 70% of travellers come to the uMhlanga and surrounding areas for the beach experience.
Hunter said other affected areas included Umdloti, Durban North, Shaka’s Rock and oThongathi. She said the spillage and beach closure had also crippled an industry that was already on its knees due to the Covid19 pandemic.
“The tourism industry is very resilient, and we do everything that we can, such as making changes and coming up with innovation, to survive. The industry survives regardless of the challenge at hand. Even though the industry won’t die, and it will continue, such incidents do affect us a lot,” said Hunter.
She said they believed the issue was being dealt with speedily by the KZN Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs Department (EDTEA), the company and also the eThekwini Municipality.
Hunter said they remained optimistic that the beaches would be open soon. However, she said they were concerned with the health of residents and tourists, but they want the beaches to only be opened once all the tests had been done, and it was safe to walk on the sand, swim and fish.
Samples to test the water and sediments to determine the toxicity of the water were taken last week by various authorities, including the UPL specialists. EDTEA will meet with various stakeholders tomorrow regarding the opening of beaches.
EDTEA MEC Ravi Pillay, accompanied by a team of officials from the department, including head of department Nhlakanipho Nkontwana and environmental specialists, met the community at the weekend at the Reddam House in uMhlanga.
The department said the meeting was convened by the UPL Cornubia Fire Civil Society Action Group to discuss the current challenges. Pillay reported to the community that a report had been received on Friday night regarding the beach closure and was being considered by authorities.
“A team received a report of the test result in regard to the beach water quality. There is an impact on the economy, tourism and there are other stakeholders who are very anxious about the issue. The team is currently processing the report, and it would be considered on Monday (today) at a formal meeting,” he said.
He said after the meeting, there would also be engagements with the eThekwini Municipality as they were part of the decision-making process.
Pillay said there could be relaxation on the recreational use of the ocean, excluding fishing, but emphasised that no decision had been taken.
“There is some hope for the economic side of things and the tourism sector,” he added.
Palesa Phili, chief executive of the Durban Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said the closure of Durban beaches had affected the tourism sector and its value chain in a negative way. This included travellers, tourism and hospitality businesses, the local community who used the beach facilities and businesses that offered support services.
She said that the beach closure came at a critical time when the county was trying to revive the economy after the unrest and in the middle of the fight against the deadly Covid19 pandemic.
“We are currently headed for a busy season. Durban is the number one domestic tourism destination and visitors will be deterred from visiting our shores should the problem persist.”