Our World Water Day Celebration at Sungei Pandan Mangrove!

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21 Mar 2015 – 41 participants from all over Singapore came together to commemorate Singapore World Water Day with a Mangrove Cleanup at Sungei Pandan. Covering some 100m along the mangrove, we picked up 42 bags of trash, consisting of 283 kg of trash and 7,785 pieces of trash.

Top of the charts were plastic bags, with 3,719 pieces and second was 1,124 pieces of foam pieces (expanded polystyrene or EPS) which were collected and disposed.

Despite the threat of bad weather and a lost bus driver at the Kent Ridge pick-up point, the cleanup went smoothly and we wrapped up operations before the storm blew in! It was a heartening sight to seeing so many individuals from all around Singapore come together with the shared goal of removing whatever trash we could from the mangrove, inspiring Kai Scene to blog immediately after the cleanup!

WWD1Here’s Liz, who has been actively participating in ICCS events for awhile now!

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Our youngest participant at 6 years old found something to bring home from the mangroves!
This is the “reuse” part of the “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle”

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Some of our participants sank deep in the mud
and struggled to remove their wellys after the cleanup!

Sungei Pandan was heavily polluted in the 90’s, and when ICCS began operations in 2008, volunteers removed high loads of accumulated trash, typically collecting over a tonne in 90 minutes. In more recent years, even as plastics and styrofoam continue to be recruited into the habitat, the overall situation has improved tremendously with just a third of a tonne of trash removed in the last two cleanups!

In 2012 you can see how a low load of plastics can still dominate the landscape – Lim Cheng Puay, the ICCS South Zone Captain remembers this well.

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Coastal cleanups should not have to be necessary. Our Saturday cleanup reminded us its critical for us to reflect on our day-to-day practices and adopt more sustainable alternatives. Simple things, like questioning whether we truly need that plastic straw in our teh-ping or milo-ping the next time we’re at the coffeeshop or hawker centre – we collected 362 straws and stirrers that Saturday. We use these for a mere 10 minutes, before disposal. With so many, some get into our marine environment to leach plastics and persist for a long time.

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Thank you to everyone who came down to fight the good fight, and a big thank you to those who stayed to wash gloves and help with logistics!

Until the next cleanup!

Never stop caring about the environment

Education Minister Heng Swee Keat wrote about “Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s Red Box” in a touching tribute about his service to the country.

In his essay, a story reflects the focus and action which it took to push Singapore towards a clean and green country. This goal requires continued effort, and is a motivation worth emulating.

“In 2010, Mr Lee was hospitalised again, this time for a chest infection. While he was in the hospital, Mrs Lee passed away. Mr Lee has spoken about his grief at Mrs Lee’s passing. As soon as he could, he left the hospital to attend the wake at Sri Temasek.

“At the end of the night, he was under doctor’s orders to return to the hospital. But he asked his security team if they could take him to the Singapore River instead. It was late in the night, and Mr Lee was in mourning. His security team hastened to give a bereaved husband a quiet moment to himself.

“As Mr Lee walked slowly along the bank of the Singapore River, the way he and Mrs Lee sometimes did when she was still alive, he paused. He beckoned a security officer over. Then he pointed out some trash floating on the river, and asked, “Can you take a photo of that? I’ll tell my PPS what to do about it tomorrow.” Photo taken, he returned to the hospital.”

Read the whole article here.

Celebrating the spirit of the Independents on World Water Day!

Independents are volunteers who sign up for coastal cleanups independently of any organisation. They are motivated individuals who turn up to help at coastal cleanups without fanfare, goodie bags, t-shirts or souvenirs. They are only promised hard work, team work and the satisfaction of helping the planet.

ICCS Zone Captains who work alongside them are always gladdened by the experience!

My first close encounter with Independents was in 2010 when we worked at the coastal cleanup at Pasir Ris 6. I enjoyed the experience so much that wrote about it! Each time since, it has been just as heartening and yesterday, at the World Water Day mangrove clean-up at Sungei Pandan, hardworking Independents brought me great joy and motivation once again!

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Some Independents hard at work

The five friendly independents with me focused on the task as soon as we stepped into the mangrove. They took turns to record data and all ensured accuracy when categorising the trash. We steadily worked one area to the next, supporting each other. We had just met, but the high level of motivation about a common goal resulted in great effectiveness. 

Some of the great people in my team

Some of the great people in my team

With the right people, even data collation is fun!

With the right people, even data collation is fun!

Throughout the mangrove that afternoon, Independents worked with dedication and tirelessly until it was time to halt. The ICCS Otters were exchanging notes later in the night and were feeling glad to have met such individuals.

As Zone Captains, we work with many different people and groups. Some require more encouragement and support than others. Independents who show such great spirit, team work and effectiveness, motivate us to keep going with the task of coordination. ICCS Otters are in this for the long haul and many have kept working for over a decade – so it is important for us to work with such dedicated individuals.

To the Participants of World Water Day clean-up 2015, thank you for your enthusiasm and hard work. See you at the next cleanup!

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“Take care of the ocean as if your life depends on it, because it does.” – Dr Sylvia Earle shares her thoughts on single use plastics, marine pollution, and the value of our oceans

Oceanographer Dr. Sylvia Earle shares with Zoe Loftus-Farren of Earth Island Journal the most pressing of marine-related issues, and how we can translate knowledge into action so as to take steps in protecting our oceans – read the article!

“Plastics were a novelty when I was a kid, but now they have become a plague in the ocean. They still serve us well in so many respects. It’s not that all plastics are the problem, but single use plastics where you use something once and throw it away.”

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At the age of 79, Dr. Earle has spent more than 7,000 hours underwater, giving her the first-hand experience of witnessing radical changes in our oceans such as “the global reach of plastics pollution.”

Noting that while the level of awareness on plastics in the ocean has risen since the 1950s, the scale of loss, destruction and change has escalated along with it. The evolution of single use plastics for example, where plastic items are disposed off almost immediately, has introduced habits that, for the sake of the ocean, “has to stop.”

“It isn’t just trash, not just the unsightliness of it, or even the entanglement of animals that is the problem. It’s is also the influence on the chemistry of the ocean there too. Many toxins are introduced, toxins concentrated around bits and pieces of floating plastic.” – Dr. Sylvia Earle

Despite the destructive habits of our daily lives, Dr. Earle comments that the lack of communication and conversation within the community is the main problem. By not understanding the importance of the oceans, not knowing what exactly it is we are doing to the ocean, and most importantly by not drawing the link between “between the decline of the ocean and the perils that presents to the future of human civilization,” we will see a continuation in the decline of our oceans.

When asked about the one ideology she would instill in people about the ocean, she says “Take care of the ocean as if your life depends on it, because it does.”

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Source:

Battling the curse of marine litter – a challenge we will face with determination!

I joined the ICCS team as the IKEA Intern in early February but had yet to experience an actual cleanup until the Tanah Merah Chinese New Year Coastal Cleanup! As part of the GEM1917 Understanding And Critiquing Sustainability module, RVRC student volunteers were led by their lecturer and ICCS Coordinator, N Sivasothi aka Otterman to Tanah Merah Beach 7 on Thursday 26th February 2015.

Toddycats SG50 Interns Sankar and Lynn joined me on this important outing as we spent the morning with students and lecturers, inserted ourselves into wild pandan and other coastal plants, indefatigably pulling out the plastic bottles and styrofoam bits insulting our shores!

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After the safety briefing and collection of logistics by students, we walked to the Tanah Merah beach, which initially appeared untainted, except for a few plastic bags and bottles.

Lynn thought to herself, “what are we going to clean up? Seaweed?”

Once we looked into the coastal forest, however, we were appalled by the countless number of disposable bottles, styrofoam bits, ropes and fishing nets littered the forest floor.

At once we spread ourselves along the beach and began working – calling out the type and number of trash items to the data collector, and storing everything in the heavy duty trash bags. Some volunteers dove into the wild pandan to retrieve the bottles, bottles and more bottles buried amongst the roots and underneath leaf litter.

Sankar later said, “despite trying to help Mother Nature out, she seemed to be working against us. We were assaulted by colonies of ants, sharp Pandanus leaves and a hot sun!”

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The presence of various polymers, be it styrofoam or plastic was harrowing! Even more distressing were the tiny bits of styrofoam that had broken down into pieces less than 5mm in size. These were impossible to completely remove from the strandline – they were interspersed amongst leaf litter and roots and buried in soil and sand. We tried our best to pick up the tiny pieces, but there was a limit to what we could do.

“It really is frustrating to think that people will so casually dispose of styrofoam into the sea, where they will break apart and either be ingested by fish or litter the beaches,” Lynn protested.

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The antidote to the distressing scene was the view of students and lecturers working hard non-stop throughout the beach, removing trash with a determination. It certainly did give us a glimmer of hope.

“Lynn said “it was heartwarming to see everyone work hard together to do their part for the environment.”

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The other glimmer of hope was the persistent presence of marine life – amidst the busy work, we saw land hermit crabs, a carpet anemone (attached to a plastic bag), and a thunder crab! Nature’s persistence in the face of pollution is something we should respond to.

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We removed some 6,700 items weighing more than 386 kg of trash, consisting mostly of single use plastics a 50 kg 50 metre rope! All that trash piled into 43 trash bags from just 90 minutes of activity made us pause to reflect on many of the things we do on a daily basis – I overheard an RVRC student say he’d never use styrofoam boxes again!

“It made me realize the seriousness of human actions on the environment at a closer basis.”
– RVRC Student Wong Shuyii

“I cannot say I “enjoyed” our morning at the beach. The words that come to mind are more like “gobsmacked”, “shocked”… Very educational for me personally. So thanks very much for that.”
– Lecturer, Hugh Anderson

Tanah Merah Beach 7 is a non-recreational beach and the piles of trash recruited everyday is a symptom of the larger problem of marine trash in our oceans. It is critical that we reflect on our actions and make a change to our lifestyles, share the message and ideas about battling this curse which ails the planet.

And it begins with the very small things – do we really need that plastic straw? Or that bottled water?

ICCS will continue to organise beach and mangrove cleanups for immediate relief to the habitat and for long-term educational impact. Physically though, the extent of marine pollution is immense and will require more ideas, action, influence and lots of determination!

Sankar felt “we as a society need to take a good hard look at where our trash goes. I hope that one day, ICCS will not be necessary to keep our shores clean.”

Making a positive change for our oceans is a tough goal, but we will meet this challenge with determination!

Recce for the World Water Day Mangrove Cleanup @ Sungei Pandan

ICCS celebrates World Water Day this year with a coastal cleanup at Sungei Pandan Mangrove, (the SP2 site) on Saturday the 21st of March 2015. In preparation for this, the South Zone Captain Lim Cheng Puay and myself headed down to the mangrove for a recce on 24 Feb 2015.

ICCS Map  Sungei Pandan mangrove

The tide was high (3.00pm – 2.8m; 4,00pm – 2.8m) and we were able to observe the mangrove from walking along Jalan Buroh. In the first photo below, you can see the mangroves right in the center of the picture, where the river curves slightly leftwards.

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Despite the high tide, accumulated trash was clearly seen on the strandline – and that was certainly a disconcerting sight. The mangrove was peppered with lots of styrofoam containers, plastic bags and disposable bottles – the usual suspects, along with aluminium cans and paper cups.

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It was not all trash – mudskippers, snails, and the work of mud lobsters and mangrove crabs were clearly evident. With critters like these living in the mangrove, it is essential that we volunteers pay attention to our surroundings and avoid trampling lobster mounds, pneumatophores and burrow holes. To minimize our impact, there will be a limit of 50 people for the World Water Day event and they will be well distributed over the site.

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Mud lobster mounds!

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Cheng Puay also introduced me to some wild Passiflora (passion fruit),
which has edible seeds like its cultivated cousin!

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This bus stop, along with another similar-sized sheltered area on the other side of the mangrove, will be the only places to shelter us from heavy rains in the case of bad weather. Here’s to hoping for a sunny 21st of March 2015!

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We will have to be careful about weaver ants too! Cheng Puay picked up a few fiery bites, and we will have warn participants about “weaved” leaves during the cleanup.

As our recce took place during high tide, a second recce will be conducted closer to the actual date. The muddy mangrove waters might be hiding trash in lower zones and mudflats from our sight, so a low tide inspection beckons!

Here are some photographs Cheng Puay took two years ago,
during low tide at Pandan Mangrove:
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A second trash load is revealed during the low tide, with trash present even in between and around mangrove roots and participants will have to carefully navigate around mangrove structures to prevent damage.

We are looking forward to meeting our lovely volunteers that day, whom we have advised to come prepared with at least 1.5 liters of water and hard-soled covered shoes, preferably booties. Mosquito repellant and a hat is always handy! We will of course send them the “ICCS Advise to Participants” before the cleanup.

The effort to clear marine trash in the Sungei Pandan mangrove, a precious remnant of this ecosystem in the south of Singapore, has its origins in the mangrove mapping project at NUS in 1987! The first cleanup was organised in 2008 and tonnes of trash have been removed since and with great timing, the smooth-coated otter appears to have returned to the area! Read about that on Otterman’s blog, “Keeping old promises – clearing the trash in Sungei Pandan mangroves.”

It is great to be part of this, and visiting the cleanup site inspired me to sketch a watercolor piece which highlights the intricate ecosystem we are part of. Here’s to a meaningful and enjoyable World Water Day cleanup everyone!

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The ICCS Flickr Photo Album Index, 2005-2014

Since 2005, all the photos taken during ICCS workshops, recces and during the cleanup have been uploaded to Habitatnews’ Flickr albums

These photos have been contributed by Zone and Site Captains, Organisational representatives and Volunteers appointed to document ICCS with photos. The large collection has become unwieldy to sort through.

we use the photos to provide first time Organisers with an idea of the site they will work on, the terrain, trash load and site details. The photos also can be indicative of tide levels on a specific date and time, providing an estimate of the optimal tidal height for a cleanup to proceed. A collection of photos from the same site provides a visual indication of trash load changes at a site. 

Photos are also important for outreach and awareness, for sharing on social media or insertion into slide talks, to stimulate an interest in protecting our environment.

So now, I am happy to present this ICCS Flickr Photo Album Index has been compiled! [link].

Photos are indexed based on site, year and the event type (e.g. recces, ICCS, National Day Coastal Cleanup) as well as the Organisation and Participants. The link provided for each album is clicked to provide the Flickr Album.

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A big thank you to all the ICCS Zone/Site Captains, Site Buddies and Organisers who have taken and contributed photos over a decade!

Germaine Leng
ICCS Intern, 2014