Swimming for rivers for life

The start at St Francis Bay Marina, from left, Vuyo Zondani, NSRI Waterwise Academy, Mandy Uys, Joy Roach, Nicky van Nierop and Andrew Chin of NSRI Waterwise and the NSRI St Francis crew.

>p>Constantia resident Andrew Chin was among five intrepid open water swimmers who conquered seven of the estuaries in the Eastern Cape to raise awareness around the poor state of our country’s rivers and to highlight the urgent need to restore them.

The athletes set off from the Kromme River mouth in

St Francis Bay on Saturday October 14 and completed their final 2017 swim at the Nahoon River mouth in East London one week later. They covered daily distances of between 5km and 11km in the Kromme, Gamtoos, Sundays, Kariega, Kowie, Keiskamma, Kwelera, and Nahoon rivers.

Pioneered by Mr Chin, the Swim for Rivers for Life team includes open water swimmers Mandy Uys, Joy Roach, Sean Murray and Nicky van Nierop. Their goal is to swim major rivers in each of South Africa’s nine provinces and to focus specifically on estuaries.

“These are the critical link between our freshwater rivers and the sea. Rivers, estuaries and oceans are interconnected and entwined, meaning that pollution of one implies pollution of all,” says Mr Chin.

He says he was inspired to create the challenge after swimming 200km in the Wilge River in the Free State over a period of 10 days in 2015 with Toks Viviers. He and fellow swimmer Henko Roukema took to the rivers again, however, high water pollution levels and exceptionally low flows forced them to abandon their quest to swim the 294km long Berg River from source to sea because of the polluted water causing such illness in the team.

Swim for Rivers Eastern Cape is the fourth event of this extreme swimming challenge. During their swims, they found silted river mouths and plastic pollution with a strong smell of diluted sewage present in a couple of them. They also endured challenging weather conditions throughout the week including very cold temperatures, rain, and a pumping head wind at times.

The swimmers’ agenda included visits to local schools – including some participating in the WESSA Eco-Schools programme – where they interacted with about 800 pupils over the week. They were also shown how they can use citizen science to monitor their own rivers and were given a short lesson in water safety.

The swimmers also met with three groups of WESSA Tourism Blue Flag Beach stewards. These passionate young people are promoting coastal environmental education as part of the three-year coastal tourism and youth development project implemented by WESSA in partnership with the national Department of Tourism.