the Curse of Marine Litter
The Curse of Marine Litter
| Situation in Singapore mangroves | What the data tells
us | Want to help?
formidable inheritance in Singapore mangroves
In the late 80s, I worked in the mangroves with a team led by Prof DH "Mangrove"
Murphy, plotting vegetation cover, mapping mangroves or searching for strange
and new animals. Frequently bypassing the trash lines, we often commented
on the extent of the rubbish accumulated over decades. I was reminded of
a famous pair of beach-combers in a Lewis-Caroll poem., Prompted by the
copious amount of sand on the beach, they discussed,
Like the pair, we shook our heads at the spectacle and snorted that the
crazy people we had heard of who cleaned beaches should come and try this
It turned out to be prophetic. In 1997,
Kate Thome, then the ICCS coordinator with the Nature Society (Singapore),
had a passion for mangroves. She hunted me down with the help of Subaraj
Rajathurai, and in that 6th year of the ICCS, I found myself coordinating
the mangrove cleanup. I had only thought I was to be a guide, but the NSS
committee that ran the massive beach cleanup was only made up of a few individuals!
So I roused current and former biology students from NUS and became one
of the crazy ones.
"If seven maids with seven mops,
Swept it for half a year,
Do you suppose," the Walrus said,
'That they could get it clear?"
"I doubt it, " said the Carpenter
And shed a bitter tear.
The trash line at Kranji
the mangrove operation was new, in an attempt to be quantitative,
we marked out 10m by 10m quadrats. We had an exciting interlude when
Alvin Wong dived into the sea to drown the rain of ants that had showered
down from the Sea Hibiscus to chew up his scalp! We plotted just six
quadrats at Mandai Kechil in 1997, and two to three people were allocated
to each quadrat - it turned out to be very hard work.
A team at work: one member is a data recorder
2001 challenge - Kranii mangroves
By 2001, the exercise had enough experienced people in the team to
grow to 24 quadrats and three sectors (larger measured areas) in the
Kranji-Buloh mangroves. The cleanup had to be run like an army operation,
with guides holding appointment titles reflecting the various tasks
- a little humourous at times since some held the incongruous title
of Trash Weighing I/C.
for future calculations
It was a truly hectic time. Despite my familiarity with the site from
years of research trips, it was the first time students would be brought
to this site on a cleanup operation. More than 10 field trips were
conducted to recalibrate the map, work out the procedure, plan and
try out various routes and points, allocate sites, set up safety ropes
for the water crossing, test stream depths and water flow, work out
the safety and communications with safety drivers and ham radio operators
from the Singapore Amateur Radio Transmitting Society (SARTS) and
a long-time participant, would later say that with any more planning,
he would expect to see helicopters air-lift us out!
Instead, as Kranji site was too far away to haul the heavy trash out,
sea scouts from Tao Nan School came to the rescue. They were part
of the "wet-ops" team: their canoes and larger craft from Raffles
Marina ferried trash bags out to Kranji Reservoir Park.
It was a short wheelbarrow ride from there to the road by a team that
included the bunch of primary school scouts from Tao Nan. A team from
Altavater Jakob later made several trips to ferry the trash away to
the dump site.
Loading up the trash bags on the canoes was hard enough work. This
was made all the more interesting when the very thin garbage bags
began to break under the weight. This was worsened as we carried them
in waist-high water to the boats and canoes by seawater that leaked
in. Eventually, we frenziedly double-bagged everything to prevent
the entire trash load from breaking out and floating away.
Guess what is on the top of my shopping list for this year's cleanup...
Delivering trash bags to canoes
canoes with trash bags
Loading boats with heavy bags
of trash at Kranji
Sungei Buloh Wetlands Reserve (SBWR) has run the cleanup in park environs
since the second year of the mangrove exercise. Their participation has
been spearheaded by Linda Goh, who is now the Acting Park Manager. She participated
as a volunteer in the first cleanup at Mandai Kechil in 1997, and brought
the programme over to SBWR thereafter. Since the trashlines are mostly outside
the park boundary, SBWR staff help by coordinating the areas adjacent to
the park as well, provide support during planning and operations and a base
station for the entire mangrove operation.
year, the mangrove participants had a pleasant surprise. DOW Chemical
provided sponsorship through NSS, and hungry kids after the cleanup
devoured pizza after their tiring day.
Additionally, all the school children at beach cleanup sites were
provided with heavy duty gloves. This was certainly greatly appreciated.
On beaches, volunteers have to keep a lookout for needles that are
sometimes found in the sand. The gloves were washed and recycled,
so will last for some years at least.
Washing gloves for future use
and summarising the data in record time
Digital photos went
up the web within days and we also received the beach data quickly. Within
two days, we were able to collate about 90% of the data for submission -
a new record.
As the students streamed in after the exercise for a wash down, data
fact sheets were submitted to Airani Ramli, stationed at the Visitor
Centre. She collated all the data on a notebook computer, summarised
and posted it all up on the Internet the same day. Kate Thome was
overjoyed and met the guides just as they finished transporting the
last of the trash bags for pickup.
Reporting in data to the data manager
Missing the point
When I cycled down to the East Coast during the beach cleanup, many students
whom I talked to, working in some little bays, had no idea that they were
part of a larger effort, locally and internationally. They were unaware
of the results of the previous years, how the data would be used, or that
Singapore still had marine life like turtles, dugongs, and dolphins offshore.
They listened with mouths agape as they heard the stories, and in my mind
I realised what we would have to address the following year - disseminating
the stories about the cleanup, how data is used and the wonder of our marine
life to school children who participate. We managed to provide for that
for most of the mangrove participants, but with more than 1,200 beach participants,
it will be a challenge.
We are thus looking to train volunteers for this aspect - being a school
contact means you tell stories to the students about the cleanup and marine
life before the exercise, work with them at the beach sites, collect their
data cards and keep them informed of the results. join us, and like me,
you will get to rub shoulders with a truly inspiring group of people - the
reward I have found of working on this project.
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