Thousands of microplastic ‘nurdles’ wash up on Dubai beach

    23 Feb 2023

    Surfers and city workers gathered to clean up Sunset Beach on Sunday after thousands of nurdles, little plastic balls, were washed ashore.

    Beachgoers in Dubai shared the photos of the clean-up on social media.

    Candy Fanucci, who leads the Pirates Surf Rescue Dubai and Abu Dhabi group, and led the clean-up, told The National: “It happened around 11am yesterday. Tiny pellets used to make plastic bottles and bags were all over the beach.

    “There were tonnes of plastic. Apparently, the bags of pellets fell from a container at sea. And one bag has about 25kg to a tonne of these tiny balls, so you can imagine how much of it was on the beach.”

    Ms Fanucci said the clean-up was an effective community project.

    “When we saw the plastic balls, we immediately sent messages to people in our group and in an hour we had hundreds of children and parents assisting us,” she said.

    “Municipality workers were there and it made a huge impact. We cleaned it in a couple of hours.”

    How do nurdles end up in oceans?

    Nurdles are small lentil-sized pieces of plastic less than 5mm in size. They are melted down and made into several plastic items.

    It takes roughly 600 nurdles to create one small plastic disposable water bottle.

    They are often shipped across the ocean in large containers but can leak out of damaged packaging and containers on board ships and end up in the sea.

    In 2021, the X-Press pearl shipwreck led to 1,680 tonnes of nurdles spilling into the ocean and onto the shores of Sri Lanka, the largest recorded nurdle spill at sea, according to a UN report.

    The UN classified it as Sri Lanka’s “worst maritime disaster”.

    Worst-hit areas included some of the country’s most pristine beaches close to the city of Negombo. Experts said at that time that the pellets that were still in the sea could travel as far as India, Indonesia and Somalia.

    But unlike kerosene, diesel and petrol, nurdles are not considered hazardous under the International Maritime Organisation’s dangerous goods code for safe handling and storage.

    According to Nurdle Hunt, a UK-based group that tackles the problem of pollution from plastic pellets, more than 360 million tonnes of plastic was produced in 2021, weighing more than the total weight of the human population.

    “After nurdles are produced they are transported across the world in their billions. During each stage of the process, from pellet to product, nurdles are spilt. When not cleaned up properly they enter waterways eventually reaching our oceans,” the website says.

    Across the UK it is estimated that as many as 53 billion pellets could enter our oceans every year, the group said.

    Cases of beach pollution in Dubai

    Dubai beaches have been polluted by sewage and brown sludge in the past.

    In August 2012, thick, black sewage was washed up on a beach in Jumeirah, polluting the water and the beach, next to Dubai Offshore Sailing Club.

    Four years earlier, beaches along the same stretch of water were closed after sewage that had been dumped illegally in Al Quoz storm drains made its way into the sea.

    Sewage tanker drivers had resorted to dumping the waste in storm drains to avoid waiting up to 16 hours in queues at the overloaded sewage treatment plant in Al Aweer.

    The municipality sent out inspection squads at night to combat the problem and offered cash rewards to informers.

    They also fast-tracked the opening of the second sewage treatment plant in Jebel Ali.


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