25 October 2009

Tackling trash on Semakau's northern shore

Bright and early this Sunday morning, a small team headed out to Pulau Semakau to do something about the trash there.
There's a huge pile of wood and other large debris on the remote northern end of Pulau Semakau. This coming Friday, the Navy is doing an amphibious haul out.

We thought we should take advantage of this opportunity to pack up some of the smaller stuff that the Navy guys may not have the time to deal with.
Thanks to a ride in from the ever friendly NEA staff, we arrive still fresh without having to make the nearly 2km trek into the shore. Here's Yen Ling with the bright orange gloves that Andy prepared for all of us.
But it's still a long trek to the pile of wood.
Ivan and Charmaine stepped up to deal with the abandoned driftnet that wound around some mangrove trees. Fortunately, the tide was low enough for them to work on it.
While James, Yen Ling and KaiScene stayed on to try to pack up the small trash at the pile of wood site, Andy, Michell and I head out to the furthest northern point.

Along the way, Michell spots what seems to be an otter! It bounded from the shore into the vegetation. Wow! Earlier on, we also saw a monitor lizard.

On this remote shore of Pulau Semakau, trash has accumulated for probably the 10 years since the landfill was built.
There's plastic trash all the way into the vegetation.
I work on the end of the this shore. Here's what it looked like before.
And after. My finger is blocking the photo because I was taking the photo with my left hand. Oops. We couldn't deal with the larger trash like large plastic and thick ropes, and focused mainly on small plastic and styrofoam. Which were more than we could handle.
There were a LOT of plastic bottles, and packets from drinks and food. Some of the trash was thickly coated in oil.
There were also cans of toxic stuff. From what I picked up, it seems most of the trash come from boats and not recreational uses. It's quite different from the trash we see at recreational parks like Changi, Pasir Ris and the East Coast. Which are clearly tossed by urban users. None of this stuff comes from the Landfill, which is very well managed and does not impact the natural shores nearby.
In a very short time, I filled up three bags full!
It's important NOT to remove everything from the shore. Because many plants (and on these plants, sometimes animals too) find new places to settle down among the natural flotsam on the seas. Here's some mangrove seedlings and bunches of seaweeds washed ashore. Some shore animals also find shelter and food in the flotsam that gathers on the high shore.
Then it was time to drag it all back to the pick up points. Andy has the brilliant idea of using a long stick to carry all the bags. In front of them, an abandoned fridge.
With the abandoned road divider in the foreground, I could see Ivan and Charmaine still working hard on the fishing net in the distance.
Here's my attempt to catch them work. Sneaky cam is not very good. The tide is starting to come in.
Meanwhile, Andy and Michell have figured out how to carry back all the bags in one go! Bravo.
They do it in two rounds as we had a lot of bags.
Still, we hardly touched most of the debris. Many are just too large to collect with a small team. Like this endless pile of blue rope.
Which was spread out over quite a stretch of the shore.
The line of trash is endless. We haul as much as we can before we had to call it a day. There was ominous thunder and in any case, we were getting really tired.
We drag everything near the pile of wood, so the Navy guys can haul it out with them.
The pile of wood is HUGE.
James and Charmaine have a well deserved rest.
Then we take group shots of what we collected.
And it was time to make the long trek back to the main road. Thank goodness Sean was there to give us a lift back to the jetty. We were really dead beat.
On the way back, I noticed the beautiful Mangrove cannon ball tree (Xylocarpus granatum) had broken in half! Oh no. But the bottom half was still alive.
Soon we were back on the mainland and enjoying a lunch treat from Ivan.
Marine debris is an endless and heart-breaking issue. It seems depressing not to be able to make a dent on the accumulations on the shore, even after working so hard today. But I think we should keep trying. If we can't resolve it entirely, hopefully we can slow down the growth of the problem as more and more people become aware.

Here's some recent information about marine debris
You CAN make a difference
  • Use less. REDUCE is the first of the 3Rs that is often overlooked.
  • Dispose of trash properly. A bottle cap tossed on the road gets washed into a drain, into a canal then into the sea where in the next 100 years could end up inside a seabird chick.
  • Encourage others to do the same.
  • Join International Coastal Cleanup Singapore to learn more and do more about marine debris.
More information


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