WHILE her husband was fishing, Ms Pauline Leong was cleaning up - the beach, that is. The deserted stretch of beach near the Punggol Marina club was so dirty that she could 'not walk two steps without stepping on something'.
So the sprightly 30-year-old civil servant picked up the plastic bottles, styrofoam food holders and plastic bags strewn around. In four hours, she filled nine plastic shopping bags with the trash.
That was a mere drop in the ocean of junk. 'I managed to clean only a 50m stretch, but the beach is more than half a kilometre long,' said Ms Leong, who recorded her experiences in a blog. 'The amount of trash was just staggering.' [See "A thoughtful act." Link to Kucinta's blog post of 13 Aug 2005 submitted by Lancerlord. Tomorrow, 14 Aug 2005.]
It is not just local litter but our neighbours' that gets washed ashore, said the National Environment Agency (NEA). And clearing it is a whale of a job. About 2,000 volunteers lifted a staggering seven tonnes of garbage - 108,000 pieces of litter - from nine beaches and three mangrove areas in the annual nationwide Coastal Cleanup in September. [See the International Coastal Cleanup Singapore webpage]
Last year, about 90,000 pieces of litter, weighing even more - nine tonnes - were cleared from the same areas by about the same number of volunteers. The beaches were dirtier than the mangrove forests. This year, about 80,000 pieces - or about 75 per cent of the litter - came from the beaches.
Held here since 1992, the cleanup - part of an international effort in more than 70 countries - is coordinated by the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research and the Nature Society. The museum's research officer, Mr N. Sivasothi, who coordinated this year's campaign, said he was surprised at the amount of beach trash. 'Singapore has had an anti-littering campaign for more than three decades,' said Mr Sivasothi. 'Yet we seem to have a long way to go.'
The significance of the cleanup - done by volunteers from schools and community groups - extends beyond mere symbolism. 'Every year, we do a painstaking analysis to see what kinds of items make up the trash,' said the cleanup's data manager, Ms Airani Ramli.
The NEA, which oversees the cleanliness of beaches here, said much of the beach trash floats here from neighbouring countries. 'During the ongoing north-east monsoon season, it is usual for a higher volume of flotsam to be washed ashore,' a spokesman said. The volunteers, however, believe otherwise. 'It's difficult to be totally sure, but most of the litter this year was from what we refer to as shoreline activities,' said Mr Sivasothi.
This year, styrofoam pieces topped the litter pack. Close to 18,000 such pieces - usually remnants of food containers - were collected, way above last year's tally of 7,000. 'Styrofoam is of special concern to us as it is non-biodegradable and small sea creatures can mistake it for food,' said Ms Airani.
The load was lighter this year, said Mr Sivasothi, because there were fewer heavier items lying around. Tyres, old furniture and other household items are usually dumped in the mangrove areas, which, unlike the beaches, are not cleaned regularly.
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