Ocean Wonders

The famous two oceans around South Africa’s Cape Peninsula are rich in marine biodiversity because it is where the warm Atlantic and cold Benguela currents mix. Vibrant reefs are filled with a vast array of life; seals, penguins, sharks, dolphins, whales and the Great African Kelp Forest make up some of the ocean wonders that can be encountered. These natural treasures are protected by the Table Mountain Marine Protected Area (MPA) — which stretches from Muizenberg around to Mouille Point, next door to Cape Town’s world famous waterfront and harbour.

Camps Bay and Clifton 4 beaches enjoy prestigious Blue Flag status and attract thousands of visitors a year to enjoy the sun, surf and sand against the backdrop of Table Mountain’s Twelve Apostles and iconic Lion’s Head.

Blue Flag Beaches

A Blue Flag is an international award given to beaches that meet excellence in the areas of safety, amenities, cleanliness and environmental standards. The strict criteria of the programme are set by the international coordinators of the Blue Flag campaign in Europe, the FEE (Foundation for Environmental Education).

In South Africa, the programme is managed by (the Wildlife and Environmental Society of South Africa) WESSA along with participating local authorities under the Department of Environmental Affairs’ CoastCare initiative. The City of Cape Town has voluntarily participated in this programme and has had Blue Flag status awarded to a number of its beaches for many years now. Their Blue Flag status has been a powerful national and international tourism drawcard for the City of Cape Town.

This international status requires that the water at the beaches are monitored and frequently tested to ensure swimmers safety and water quality excellence. Some argue that these and other measures for water safety set by the South African Government are insufficient as a source for reliable data to monitor the situation as they are limited to microbiological indicators of faecal pollution, namely E. coli and Enterococcus, to determine contamination.

Others have argued that fortnightly sampling of the water, like the City does, is unreliable because there could be long periods of bad water quality due to changing wind direction, currents and storms, and these readings would miss some of the contamination. In addition, Blue Flag only operates within a specific season, from the 1st of December till the end of March when there are the most bathers.

Professor Edda Weimann, a public health specialist at University of Cape Town (UCT) said that water quality issues should be taken seriously.  “It affects people who have vulnerable immune systems. It is a problem that has been completely ignored and swept under the carpet.” Professor Weimann first raised concerns in 2013 when she took independent samples at Clifton, and found that five out of six samples taken between February and March failed the water quality standards for the beach’s Blue Flag status.

Marine Outfall Pipelines

Unlike the other 20 waste water treatment plants (WWTs) around the peninsula, the marine outfalls provide for a preliminary treatment facility only.

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This means that sand and grit is first removed, then the sewerage goes through a series of mesh screens, which then sieves out the larger items such as nappies, plastic, rags and sanitary goods. The macerated sewage is then pumped into the ocean via an underwater pipeline about a kilometer or two off shore at a depth ranging from 20–30 meters.

The City of Cape Town states that the pipelines are ‘designed to withstand wave actions and possible damage from ship anchors, and they have a diffuser at the end of the pipeline that helps to disperse the waste’. The marine outfalls are labelled ‘deep sea’ but they are not very far from shore. Sewage from Camps Bay is fairly “pure” in that it comes mainly from residents and local businesses, like restaurants. According to experts, the shape of the bay in Camps Bay retains the sewage from the outfall.

According to WESSA, it is recommended that ‘there should not be any discharge of industrial, urban wastewater or sewage-related discharges into a Blue Flag area or immediate buffer zone surrounding area; and that no industrial, waste-water or sewage-related discharges should affect the beach area’. This is not the case for Camps Bay, as it has a marine outfall pipeline situated to one side of the beach, at Maidens Cove. The Camps Bay marine outfall which has been in operation since 1977 is 1,4km off the popular tourist beach and pumps out about 5,5 million litres of wastewater a day. It is a much shorter distance away from Maidens Cove, which used to be a beach for persons of colour, when the outfall was designed.

In 2015, when the City of Cape Town applied for their new coastal waters effluent discharge permits, which would legalise the sewer marine outfalls, many concerns were raised. Among them was WESSA. They were deeply concerned about the continuing impact of the discharge of effluent, via the marine outfalls, particularly its potential impacts on the CoCT’s Blue Flag status beaches.

Cape Town’s beaches are consistently among the top attractions for foreign visitors to the city, particularly that of its Blue Flag status beaches, and the tourism industry has an important role to play in the consistent growth of the economy of the Western Cape. Protecting the marine environment and the beaches of Cape Town is of strategic economic importance.

Ocean Wonders

The famous two oceans around South Africa’s Cape Peninsula are rich in marine biodiversity because it is where the warm Atlantic and cold Benguela currents mix. Vibrant reefs are filled with a vast array of life; seals, penguins, sharks, dolphins, whales and the Great African Kelp Forest make up some of the ocean wonders that can be encountered. These natural treasures are protected by the Table Mountain Marine Protected Area (MPA) — which stretches from Muizenberg around to Mouille Point, next door to Cape Town’s world famous waterfront and harbour.

Camps Bay and Clifton 4 beaches enjoy prestigious Blue Flag status and attract thousands of visitors a year to enjoy the sun, surf and sand against the backdrop of Table Mountain’s Twelve Apostles and iconic Lion’s Head.

Blue Flag Beaches

A Blue Flag is an international award given to beaches that meet excellence in the areas of safety, amenities, cleanliness and environmental standards. The strict criteria of the programme are set by the international coordinators of the Blue Flag campaign in Europe, the FEE (Foundation for Environmental Education).

In South Africa, the programme is managed by (the Wildlife and Environmental Society of South Africa) WESSA along with participating local authorities under the Department of Environmental Affairs’ CoastCare initiative. The City of Cape Town has voluntarily participated in this programme and has had Blue Flag status awarded to a number of its beaches for many years now. Their Blue Flag status has been a powerful national and international tourism drawcard for the City of Cape Town.

This international status requires that the water at the beaches are monitored and frequently tested to ensure swimmers safety and water quality excellence. Some argue that these and other measures for water safety set by the South African Government are insufficient as a source for reliable data to monitor the situation as they are limited to microbiological indicators of faecal pollution, namely E. coli and Enterococcus, to determine contamination.

Others have argued that fortnightly sampling of the water, like the City does, is unreliable because there could be long periods of bad water quality due to changing wind direction, currents and storms, and these readings would miss some of the contamination. In addition, Blue Flag only operates within a specific season, from the 1st of December till the end of March when there are the most bathers.

Professor Edda Weimann, a public health specialist at University of Cape Town (UCT) said that water quality issues should be taken seriously.  “It affects people who have vulnerable immune systems. It is a problem that has been completely ignored and swept under the carpet.” Professor Weimann first raised concerns in 2013 when she took independent samples at Clifton, and found that five out of six samples taken between February and March failed the water quality standards for the beach’s Blue Flag status.

Marine Outfall Pipelines

Unlike the other 20 waste water treatment plants (WWTs) around the peninsula, the marine outfalls provide for a preliminary treatment facility only.

Read more

This means that sand and grit is first removed, then the sewerage goes through a series of mesh screens, which then sieves out the larger items such as nappies, plastic, rags and sanitary goods. The macerated sewage is then pumped into the ocean via an underwater pipeline about a kilometer or two off shore at a depth ranging from 20–30 meters.

The City of Cape Town states that the pipelines are ‘designed to withstand wave actions and possible damage from ship anchors, and they have a diffuser at the end of the pipeline that helps to disperse the waste’. The marine outfalls are labelled ‘deep sea’ but they are not very far from shore. Sewage from Camps Bay is fairly “pure” in that it comes mainly from residents and local businesses, like restaurants. According to experts, the shape of the bay in Camps Bay retains the sewage from the outfall.

According to WESSA, it is recommended that ‘there should not be any discharge of industrial, urban wastewater or sewage-related discharges into a Blue Flag area or immediate buffer zone surrounding area; and that no industrial, waste-water or sewage-related discharges should affect the beach area’. This is not the case for Camps Bay, as it has a marine outfall pipeline situated to one side of the beach, at Maidens Cove. The Camps Bay marine outfall which has been in operation since 1977 is 1,4km off the popular tourist beach and pumps out about 5,5 million litres of wastewater a day. It is a much shorter distance away from Maidens Cove, which used to be a beach for persons of colour, when the outfall was designed.

In 2015, when the City of Cape Town applied for their new coastal waters effluent discharge permits, which would legalise the sewer marine outfalls, many concerns were raised. Among them was WESSA. They were deeply concerned about the continuing impact of the discharge of effluent, via the marine outfalls, particularly its potential impacts on the CoCT’s Blue Flag status beaches.

Cape Town’s beaches are consistently among the top attractions for foreign visitors to the city, particularly that of its Blue Flag status beaches, and the tourism industry has an important role to play in the consistent growth of the economy of the Western Cape. Protecting the marine environment and the beaches of Cape Town is of strategic economic importance.

Bay of Sewage

In 2016, the Camps Bay & Clifton Ratepayers Association (CBCRA) commissioned local filmmaker Mark Jackson to make Bay of Sewage — a documentary that included pictures and interviews with aerial photographer Jean Tresfon and leading scientists explaining how science is showing the waters are so contaminated it is turning up in marine organisms.

This video on Youtube has racked up over 86 000 views and explains the problems with the marine outfalls, and the issues with dumping raw sewage into the ocean, especially in a Marine Protected Area. The Facebook page for the video is updated regularly.

The City’s response to the film was to issue a ’cease and desist’ legal letter to the filmmaker and Jean Tresfon, demanding the withdrawal of the short documentary from the internet.

They argued that the two scientists who were interviewed for the film, leading epidemiologist Jo Barnes, and an environmental nano-chemist, Professor Leslie Petrik, were unscientific and claimed that the occasionally high E. coli counts in Camps Bay were not from the sewage pipe, but from stormwater runoff.

A supposedly independent CSIR report was finally released to the public in November 2017, after pressure from a number of quarters, and the City issued a statement saying it supported their view that coastal pollution was not due to the outfalls and was not dangerous to the public. This view was immediately questioned by those who read the report itself. (See Causing a Stink below)

The City operates the marine outfalls based on 2011 licences issued by the National Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS) but have not yet been granted operational licences by the National Department of Environmental Affairs 9DEA) according to new regulations, thus do not have current Coastal Waters Discharge permits, as far as can be ascertained.

Causing a Stink

Byron Herbert is Camps Bay born and bred, was a surfer and lifesaver, and was a management committee member of the Camps Bay & Clifton Ratepayers Association (CBCRA). When he joined the CBCRA management committee in 2013, he assumed that the Camps Bay Sewage marine outfall (MOP) was properly treating all sewage before being discharged out into the sea via a steel pipe. “But little did we know it was merely macerating and pumping untreated sewage at the mouth of the bay. The assumption was that as the coastline forms part of the Table Mountain National Park Marine Reserve, with this Marine Protected Area (MPA) falling under National Government, the discharge would have to be highly regulated.”

Because Camps Bay Beach had Blue Flag status, Herbert assumed that the sea water quality was regularly tested and “pristine”. As part of Environment Portfolio with the Camps Bay Ratepayers Association, Byron voiced concerns about sewage related pollution, and asked to see the license of the marine outfall pipeline (MOP) in a Marine Protected Area, which is the case for Camps Bay. It was only in 2015 when the “sewage plume” photos from environmental photographer Jean Tresfon were published that the visual impact was noted and subsequent questions to the CoCT were raised by the public. The public outcry was fierce.

Floating effluent found by a kayaker. Photo: Ledelle Moe

“The City of Cape Town (CoCT) learnt that their outdated Department of Waste and Sanitation (DWS) licences governing the outflow are not in compliance with the Integrated Coastal Management Act (ICMA) of 2009. This Act states that “no person is allowed to discharge effluent from sources on land into coastal water except in terms of … a Coastal Waters Discharge Permit”.

“Every question that was raised, brought even more questions and we soon discovered that presumably no one outside of the CoCT had any idea that the Camps Bay marine outfall was discharging untreated sewage.”

Movement of water in Camps Bay. Source: Bay of Sewage

According to an article in Wavescape magazine, the City of Cape Town issued a statement following this public outcry to correct “misconceptions” and “clear up confusions” about the permit application. They were confident this was not affecting the safety of the waters and the beaches, and commissioned the CSIR to do a 2 year comprehensive study to allay public fears.

After many delays, the CSIR report was released in November 2017. It offered an overview of the Atlantic coastline including the marine outfall points at Hout Bay, Camps Bay and Mouille Point. The report commentary was questioned by independent scientists whose published results differed. The Camps Bay Ratepayers Association requested the raw data that was used in the CSIR study, and after a protracted process of correspondence, found that the collection, transportation and testing of samples was not independently undertaken by the CSIR as was generally understood.

Herbert’s comment: “So we discovered that this was in fact not a CSIR study but rather a report, based for the most part on the information as supplied by the CoCT.” The Ratepayers Association asked one of its members to assess the data, and questions many of the interpretation because the methods of sampling (eg tide/time/ date/weather/depth etc), appeared not to be consistent.

“It is clear that a marine outfall pipeline pumping untreated sewage into the sea is not a long term solution, especially as the indications are causing the environmental damage that both the science and the “decay timeline” in the Bay’s since its inception in 1977 would indicate.” Byron Herbert, Camps Bay & Clifton Ratepayers Association

Photo: Jean Tresfon

According to Professor Leslie Petrik, Camps Bay illustrates so clearly that even a wealthy, rate paying suburb with proper legal representation has not been able to achieve a solution or make the City take action. So what hope have the poorly represented, non rate paying residents have to get their sewage issues resolved?

Herbicidal Aesthetics

In a very recent study done at Camps Bay, the presence of herbicide chemical compounds found in seawater, beach sand and marine organisms, indicate the extent of chemical pollution in the local marine ecosystem. The study, undertaken by Cecilia Ojemaye and Leslie Petrik from the Environmental & Nano Sciences Group at UWC, aimed to establish whether raw sewage containing selected persistent chemicals that are released through the marine outfall would be sufficiently diluted by the ocean to prevent impact on the near-shore marine environment of the suburb Camps Bay.

Samples of seawater, sediment, sea-weed, and selected marine organisms present in the near shore environment, such as limpets, mussels, and sea urchins, were analysed for five indicator herbicides, namely atrazine, alachlor, simazine, metolachlor, and butachlor.

Herbicides are a type of pesticide designed to kill or control specific types of pests such as weeds and other problematic plant species. There is a massive range of toxicities associated with pesticides, and herbicides in particular, as few are nontoxic or not harmful to mammals.

This study proved that the herbicides enter the environment of Camps Bay primarily through urban resident’s raw sewage discharged through the marine sewage outfall since there was no storm water runoff in this urban setting during the severe drought of 2015–2018.

“The detected herbicide levels in beach sand and marine biota located in rock pools along the shore show that the sewage plume from the marine outfall frequently reaches the land. This indicates that dilution of the sewage by the ocean is inadequate and that the outfall location is too close to the shore to prevent contamination, which clearly contradicts the Blue Flag criteria used by the City to establish safe swimming or water use.”

Why are people in Camps Bay using so much Herbicide?

This study indicated the extensive use of these herbicides for cosmetic and ornamental purposes in gardening, or for weed control in an urban setting. Many people know very little about the impact of these chemical compounds on the environment, and specifically the indirect impact on the ocean environment. It is clear that consumers and municipalities need to be educated about their inadvertent use and safe disposal of these gardening chemicals. Many of the herbicides found are banned in other countries, but still in use in suburban environments in South Africa. Urgent action is required to educate the public about the associated environmental and human risks of their choices.

Herbicide Seawater Samples

“If not halted, the continuous discharge of effluents containing those hazardous chemicals via the marine sewage outfall will result in an increase in levels of those chemicals in marine waters and species in Camp Bay, which will have a negative impact on the viability of the associated Marine Protected Area. Treatment of the sewage before its release into the marine environment should be mandatory to protect and maintain marine bio-diversity and human health.”

Presence and risk assessment of herbicides in the marine environment of Camps Bay’ (Cape Town, South Africa) C.Y. Ojemaye, C. T. Onwordi, D. M. Pampanin, M. O. Sydnes, L. Petrik, 2020

How does it look today?

In March 2020, The City of Cape Town released a long awaited report titled ‘Know your Coast’, revealing annual results from 2015 to 2019 at 90 testing sites where the City collects samples. This is the first report available to the public on coastal water quality since 2013, when the City stopped presenting the water quality results to subcouncils.

Even with the official data whose methodological verifiability has been questioned by independent researchers, Camps Bay has only achieved a “fair” rating for five years running.

These results illustrate that the conventional wastewater treatment route and marine sewage outfalls are not appropriate for the disposal of the contaminants entering the sea at Camps Bay. Many of these contaminants have been developed by pharmaceutical and chemical industries to withstand harsh conditions (temperatures, stomach acidity, etc.) and are biochemically effective at low doses. As such, these chemicals are likely to persist in the environment for very long periods of time. The Stockholm Convention requires governing bodies, including municipalities, to limit the release of pollutants to the open environment. When will the City of Cape Town comply?

What are you putting in the water?

How does it look today?

In March 2020, The City of Cape Town released a long awaited report titled ‘Know your Coast’, revealing annual results from 2015 to 2019 at 90 testing sites where the City collects samples. This is the first report available to the public on coastal water quality since 2013, when the City stopped presenting the water quality results to subcouncils.

Even with the official data whose methodological verifiability has been questioned by independent researchers, Camps Bay has only achieved a “fair” rating for five years running.

These results illustrate that the conventional wastewater treatment route and marine sewage outfalls are not appropriate for the disposal of the contaminants entering the sea at Camps Bay. Many of these contaminants have been developed by pharmaceutical and chemical industries to withstand harsh conditions (temperatures, stomach acidity, etc.) and are biochemically effective at low doses. As such, these chemicals are likely to persist in the environment for very long periods of time. The Stockholm Convention requires governing bodies, including municipalities, to limit the release of pollutants to the open environment. When will the City of Cape Town comply?

What are you putting in the water?