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Fri 16 Dec 2005

Labrador Rocky Shore Cleanup

Category : coastalcleanup

Friday 16 Dec 2005 - The rocky shore at Labrador and the cliff forest that borders its shores are special in Singapore and have been recognised as such. In 2001 we heard the surprising news that Labrador, along with with Sungei Buloh, was to be "legislated as Nature Reserves under the National Parks Act" - a first for the history of independent Singapore.

This evening, the rocky shore welcomed a group of seven volunteers led by Labrador Blog's Leong Wai and some sacks provided by NParks. We managed to clear some 200kg of trash during the low tide. Based on our impressions (we did not categorise or count the data), an estimated 75% of the items picked up was glass, 20% was plastic and some 5% was metal.

Why we came
In mid-November, during a short stroll, I noticed that numerous pieces of glass peppered Labrador's rocky shore.

This situation was different from what we found on sites cleared during the International Coastal Cleanup SIngapore (ICCS). Those are plagued by plastic.

So I suggested that Leong Wai, the Raffles Museum Toddycat in charge of the Labrador Blog, and a Blue Water Volunteer, organise a cleanup there. She and other undergraduate researchers familiar with the area usually have their "hands full with rubbish everytime they come out of the beach," to quote fellow Toddycat, Hwang Danwei. So she responded enthusiastically and started checking tide tables for a suitable date.

Just a few of us
Since the trash load is low by ICCS standards, and the rocky shore, like mangroves, has to be sensitively cleared, she sent a simple email to volunteer groups she knew and the six who could, came. We would be joined on the shore by one more to make seven.

NParks provided the critically important sacks that would withstand the glass shards. Having hauled a few of those heavy glass-laden sacks on my back without injury this evening, I can attest to their effectiveness.

Eradicating glass
We combed the beach and rocky shore pretty much in determined silence and as carefully as we could. Many of the transparent, brown and green-tinted glass pieces were quite well camouflaged on the shore and at times, were surprisingly difficult to find. Initially, glass fragments were commmon higher up the beach. Later we found some partly buried in the sand lower down the shoreline and even in the rocky shore.

Some glass pieces were clearly 'rocky shore residents', They have experienced the ebbing and flowing tide long enough to be worn smooth. Although the glass we picked up was not encrusted with any marine life, partially intact glass and also plastic and metal bottles were carefully inspected for life-forms and were cleared of marine life before removal. I did leave behind two pieces of hard plastic that had become encrusted with amorphous sponges and well-anchored between rocks.

Things we left behind
We did not manage to clear every speck, but it was getting dark and carting out the heavy trash would prove to be an interesting workout! We did manage, although we left behind three tyres that we will ask NParks, who has a regular contractor to help clear. Large-diameter shipping rope that was hopelessly entangled amongst the supra-littoral boulders was also left behind. And we studiously avoided eye contact with a huge PVC structure lodged against the jetty - probably a cage come adrifft from a floating fish farm!

Making it safe for kids
The happy group pictured around their haul cleared a significant amount of the glass littering Labrador and it is much safer now.

Labrador has been an important living classroom that generations of school and university students have used to understand marine biology, physical geography, botany and seashore life. The beach is also visited by families and many still like to feel the sand in their toes - we watched a famiIy do just that even as we hauled out bags clinking with glass. It is easy to forget cautionary advise when the shores look very clean but a piece of glass may be lurking, camouflaged in the sand or rock.

Unexpected help
There is still the odd piece of glass out there and a few more careful low tide beach-cleanings will help. Every litle bit does.

One source of opportunistic help was a Temasek JC biology teacher, Lena Lim. Visiting Labrador in preparation for a rocky shore biology class next year, she worked gamely alongside us, much to our delight! She did manage a sufficient glimpse of the marine life there, including the very fortunate encouter of two octopuses, who had emerged from burrows presumably in anticipation of a night of hunting crabs under a full moon.

The Labrador Rocky shore is delightful, but please wear proper footwear there and whn visiting any intertidal shore, even beaches. And help remove any glass you encounter - every little effort makes a difference!

Posted at 4:19PM UTC by N. Sivasothi | permalink | email | Raffles Museum news