An intergrated study of the eziMbokodweni estuary : water and sediment quality, and estuary-nearshore material fluxes.
This study represents an integrated and holistic assessment of the eziMbokodweni Estuary’s water and sediment quality. The estuary was once relatively un-impacted but now flows through a highly anthropogenically-modified catchment, comprising industrial and residential developments (formal and informal), and the eziMbokodweni Wastewater Treatment Works, furthermore the floodplain has been completely transformed to accommodate the Amanzimtoti golf course. Flow from the highly degraded Isipingo River and Estuary is occasionally diverted into the eziMbokodweni and the Southern Sewage Works Outfall, one of the largest deep sea sewage outfalls in the eThekwini Municipality, is located at sea, approximately 1.5 km south of the estuary mouth. Estuarine health can be studied on various fronts, in this study, the following variables were monitored in the water and sediment columns, seasonally for spring and neap tides: heavy metals, nutrients, bacteria and selected physico-chemical parameters. The results demonstrated that the eziMbokodweni catchment was a major contributor of heavy metals and nutrients to the estuarine system. The quantity of the majority of heavy metals and nutrients transported by the river at the upper estuary exceeded the amount exported to sea at the estuary mouth-nearshore interface, resulting in the estuary accruing large quantities of material seasonality. It was noted that the nearshore waters are enriched, as a variety of heavy metals and nutrients entered the estuary mouth during flood tide episodes. A range of heavy metals were detected within the sediment profiles obtained from the estuary, with fine to medium grained sediment exhibiting greater heavy metal content, in some cases, multi-fold higher than that detected in medium to coarse grained sediment. Geochemical indices were employed to ascertain the extent to which these metals constituted a pollution threat to the environment. The contamination factor calculated for all sediment layers and sampling sites implied low contamination. The enrichment factor calculated for the majority of heavy metals alluded to natural causes while some heavy metals exhibited significant to extremely high levels of enrichment thus implicating anthropogenic causes as likely sources of these heavy metals. The degree of contamination of the estuary was classified as low. Overall, the heavy metal and nutrient content detected in the sediments were low as compared to the large quantities detected from the budget. This indicates that natural mechanisms exist which facilitate the utilization or removal of these heavy metals and nutrients from the estuary. It is proposed that the most significant manner by which these heavy metals and nutrients are eliminated from the estuary is through episodic flood events that scour and strip fine grained sediment from the estuary bed. The pH assessment of the estuary revealed that this environment was slightly basic through most of the year with mildly acidic conditions noted during winter. The average Dissolved Oxygen levels were within acceptable levels, with the exception of winter when levels were very close to hypoxic conditions. The average Total Dissolved Solid content indicated that the estuary was compliant with the target water quality range for domestic use on selected seasonal-tidal cycles, and the average Electrical Conductivity levels were compliant with the ideal target water quality range for aquatic ecosystems and domestic use as per the South African water quality guidelines (DWAF, 1996a-e). A salinity gradient was evident in the estuary, as salinity levels decreased with distance from the estuary mouth. The saline nature of the lower estuary provided for the flocculation of material, which was alarming as large quantities of heavy metals and nutrients were detected in the estuary. The lower estuary is therefore susceptible to contamination due to the salinity regime and the dominance of fine grained sediment. The demand for oxygen in the estuary was high during summer, autumn and spring, and within acceptable levels for natural waters during winter. Extremely high levels of Chemical Oxygen Demand were recorded in the estuary which provides prime growth and survival opportunities for bacteria. This correlated with the results from microbiological investigations as high levels of bacteria were noted within the estuary, in both the sediment and water columns. The detected quantities of Total Coliforms, Faecal Coliforms and Escherichia Coliforms exceeded the target water quality thresholds for domestic and full contact recreational use. While at selected sites, the recorded Faecal Coliforms and Escherichia Coliforms levels were deemed compliant for intermediate contact recreational use. However, these sites were not compliant throughout the sampling period. Overall, the upper and mid-estuary exhibited greater counts of bacteria, in both the sediment and water column, than the estuary mouth and was attributed to factors such as flushing, sediment particle size, salinity and the ‘dilution effect’. Furthermore, the sediment of the eziMbokodweni Estuary is serving as a reservoir for bacteria. A number of options have been proposed to improve the degraded state of the eziMbokodweni Estuary and are ultimately aimed at curbing the anthropogenic input of these contaminants. The insight gained from this study provides the database from which more integrated and holistic estuarine management strategies can stem, that are applicable not just to the eziMbokodweni Estuary but estuaries in general.