The International Coastal Cleanup Singapore programme at Pulau Ubin collects annual data from Chek Jawa. In the process, we made yet another dent to years of accumulated trash on this precious marine environment. Determined volunteers huffed and puffed as they collected fine debris and dragged out tyres and long-abandoned fishing nets embedded in the sand and mud of Chek Jawa’s shores.
Getting to Chek Jawa means getting up really early! Volunteers reached Changi Village early to board bumboats to the island where eagerly awaiting Ubin taxi-vans brought them to Chek Jawa after a bumpy, 15 minute ride! The advance team from the Raffles Museum’s ICCS ‘Otters’ thought we were early but we were beaten to the first bumboat by an eager volunteer from the US who had only recently arrived in Singapore!
Looking down at the efforts of the 222 volunteers who removed 2.1 tones of marine debris were majestic white-bellied sea eagles, soaring high in the skies above. A few volunteers also saw a troop of wild boars foraging in the rubber plantation near House No. 1 who must have welcomed the removal of so much plastic from their island sanctuary. Other volunteers exclaimed over dinner plate-sized jellyfish they saw at the low water mark and a day after the cleanup, one participant is still abuzz by the mud lobster he saw in bright daylight!
Chek Jawa was once the site of a sizeable kampung village, and this is revealed by remnants of structures. The couple of wooden fishing jetties left behind jetty leg stumps and these are now host to numerous abandoned fishing nets, some stuck deep in the shifting sands and mud. Not all are old though, and new nets indicate the continued dumping of unwanted nets by local fishermen. Nets trap and kill organisms especially the many species of crabs that make Chek Jawa their home. Horseshoe crabs are especially vulnerable and the indestructible nets wreak havoc on this endangered living fossil we are lucky to still be able to see in our seas.
Forty blue drums irretrievably stuck in tangle of the tree line fronting the shore were proven to be extricable when volunteers bravely ventured into the thickets to remove a good number before the fast rising tide forced many to be left behind – this time! Less noticeable but easily outnumbering these large items were the omnipresent plastic bottles, styrofoam bits and plastic bags that plague our shores.
A conservative estimate suggests that we removed only 5% of the total load at Chek Jawa. Help to tackle this could come from small, low-impact, year-round cleanups as has been coordinated for some of the mangrove sites elsewhere. Tourists on NParks’ special intertidal tours at Chek Jawa might be happy to contribute to this effort once they learn about the issue. A 30 minute cleanup exercise after the regularly-conducted tour would do wonders!
Let’s all think about a regular check-out of the marine debris load at Chek Jawa. Slowly but surely, we will relieve the ecosystem of the burden man has imposed for so many years.
Pulau Ubin Zone Coordinator
International Coastal Cleanup Singapore
Thanks to Ivan Kwan for the photos!