Garden Route National Park spokeswoman Nandi Mgwadlamba said sandbags were used to partially close the estuary after the Kiani Satu ran aground on August 8, preventing oil from entering.
She said the sandbags were now being removed. This was an “incredibly challenging task” because some of them were deeply buried and would surface only with time.
“However, a concerted effort will be made to ensure that as many of the sandbags as possible are removed.” After it ran aground, the captain and 19-member crew of the Kiani Satu were forced to abandon ship.
The vessel reportedly suffered an engine breakdown in heavy seas while carrying 330 tons of fuel oil and 15,000 tons of rice. The SA Maritime Safety Authority (Samsa) pumped the fuel oil from the ship’s engine room to higher parts of the vessel and flew it off the ship in plastic tanks.
Samsa later towed the Kiani Satu out to sea. It sank three weeks ago in 1000 metres of water, 110 nautical miles south of Buffels Bay. Mgwadlamba said the reopening of the estuary mouth and the restoration of the channel to the same dimensions as prior to the artificial closure were improbable.
SANParks scientist Dr Ian Russell said the estuary was just over a metre above mean sea level, significantly reducing the chance of breaching.
However, reports that the estuary would be damaged if it were to remain closed and breach only when the water level reached two metres above mean sea level, were unfounded.
“This is a naturally open/closed system where such variability in mouth state and water height is natural. In fact, these extremes have been significantly suppressed by man’s alteration of the system,” he said.
“If the estuary were to remain closed now, and for a period forward, then yes, recruitment opportunities for marine fish and some estuarine invertebrates could be temporarily altered.”
An estuary is a partially enclosed coastal body of water which is either permanently or periodically open to the sea, and which contains a mixture of seawater and freshwater.