Coast is clear for sandcastle contest

An annual sandcastle competition will go ahead at Hout Bay Beach tomorrow after the organisers said concerns about the sand being polluted were unfounded.

A sandcastle competition planned for Hout Bay Beach will go ahead tomorrow, despite concerns raised about possible pollution in the sand.

Valley Primary School’s annual Sandcastle Competition draws hundreds of participants and spectators to the beach, raising money for worthy causes around Hout Bay.

However, earlier this year, the City’s coastal water quality report revealed that Hout Bay Beach had a pollution problem. The beach rated “poor” for the second year in a row in the “Know Your Coast” report (“Pollution plagues Hout Bay Beach,” Sentinel News, July 8).

Hout Bay resident Andrea Potgieter alluded to the report when she raised concerns with the Sentinel last week about the wisdom of holding the competition at Hout Bay Beach.

“I am sure E coli also seeps into the sand. How safe is it for kids to play in?”

She said the City should post signage at the beach warning the public about the dangers of swimming in polluted water.

However, City official Lizel Steenkamp told the Sentinel that more recent tests on the Hout Bay Beach water had found it to be in “excellent” condition and there was no harm in the sandcastle competition going ahead.

Ward councillor Roberto Quintas said water samples were taken regularly and “where appropriate or necessary” the community was informed should there be reason for concern.

“I have not been informed of sewer spills at present and am in regular contact with the sandcastle competition, who have not raised concerns,” he said.

Jacky Whales, from the Friends of the Rivers of Hout Bay, said Hout Bay River generally suffered from extremely high pollution levels, mostly E coli, and had done so for the past 25 to 30 years, but there had been a big improvement in water quality, following City interventions in the catchment over the past six months.

“The river and estuary are still not within safe swimming water quality guidelines and no-one should swim in the water, but I have seen fish in the estuary and river lately and an increase in bird life, which is all a reflection of the improvement.”

She also ruled out the possibility of the sand at Hout Bay Beach being polluted, saying: “Because of the way the currents circulate in the bay, the sea at the Chapman’s Peak side is less affected than where the river enters the sea. Also UV light and heat is known to break down E coli so it is my opinion that the sand on that side of the beach is acceptable for digging in, as it was in previous years.”

The annual competition raises funds for the school’s Sonwabile Bursary Fund, which gives 10 children from disadvantaged backgrounds a chance to attend Valley Pre-Primary.

The school’s principal, Natasha du Toit, said the organisers had taken the concerns about pollution seriously.

“We feel it is important to address the concerns with regards to the beach pollution and the impact it may have on our competitors and families,” she said.

Organisers had consulted with the Sentinel Ocean Alliance, who tested the water often, she said.

She said the City’s marine and coastal management department had also told her there was no need to worry about pollution in the sand.

“Research has shown that Chapman’s Peak side will never be contaminated, as the current runs towards the harbour. The competition is also held on the Chapman’s Peak side of the beach, which is a substantial distance from the estuary, in which the public have always been advised not to enter. We will make announcements regarding this fact throughout the morning to safeguard the competitors,” she said.

“We feel confident with the information that we have gathered from the experts and all the steps we have put in place that our event will be a safe and fun morning on our beautiful Hout Bay Beach. We look forward to seeing everyone there.”