Spatio-temporal variations of the sedimentology and geochemistry of six estuaries within the eThekwini Municipality, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.
Estuaries are dynamic features of a coastline whose sediments are influenced by riverine and marine processes. Periodic events such as floods, as well as variations in mouth status, greatly affect the energy levels within an estuary and subsequently the amount of sediment erosion and deposition that takes place. Concurrently, pollutants are transported and deposited into estuaries and can reside in the sediments for many years. The estuaries of the eThekwini Municipality in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, are exposed to a variety of pollutants; however with the expanding industrial sector within this region, metal contamination is of concern. This study investigates the sedimentology and geochemical variations of six estuaries within the municipality namely, the uTongati, uMdloti, uMgeni, Isipingo and uMbokodweni estuaries as well as the Durban Harbour. To determine the spatial variations in estuarine sedimentology, sediment cores were collected longitudinal to the estuary axis. The core samples were analysed for sediment colour, texture and organic matter content. To assess the geochemical variations, core samples were analysed for Zn, Cu, Cr, Ni, Pb, As, Fe, Al, Ca, S, P, Mg, Mn, Cd and V concentrations. Some samples were also carbon dated to provide a temporal aspect to the sediment and geochemical variations. Descriptive and graphic techniques were used to examine the sedimentology within the estuaries; and the geochemical data was analysed with the use of multivariate statistics. Additionally, pollution indices and sediment quality guidelines were utilized to assess the pollution levels within the sediments. The results indicated that lower energy environments caused by protracted mouth closures in the uMdloti and Isipingo estuaries accounted for large amassing of fines. In contrast, the accumulation of mixed coarse and fine sediments in the uTongati and uMgeni estuaries was an indication of high fluvial flows and open mouth conditions. All carbon dated ages for all estuaries were greater than 700 years which may be attributed to a combination of scouring effects from past and recent flood events and also possibly due to the deposition of re-worked older sediments from upstream. Low metal concentrations were found within the sediments of all estuaries, and the presence of fines and organic matter governed their concentration variations with depth. The uMgeni and uMbokodweni estuaries which are located immediately downstream of industrial and urban areas, were found to contain relatively higher concentrations of elements Pb, Cu, As and Ni. These metals showed high enrichment within the sediments; however actual concentrations were below sediment quality guideline levels. General pollution levels within all estuaries were very low, and can be attributed to the climatic influences within this region which has a ‘cleansing’ effect on the estuarine environments in removing contaminants.