Data cards? Checked. Gloves? Checked. Transport arrangements? Checked. I was going through my checklist, determined not to make a fool out of myself in front of 30 ICCS volunteers from the European Union and NUS University Scholars Programme the next morning.
Having volunteered with Toddycats (nature and environment volunteers with the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research, NUS) at Pandan and Lim Chu Kang Mangroves, and with Nature Society Singapore at Kranji Mudflats, I was now roped in to take on a larger role in one of Singapore’s largest environmental conservation programmes – International Coastal Cleanup Singapore.
It was not just about picking up marine trash anymore. It was about taking the driver’s seat (ok maybe not that of an 80-seater coach); organizing, communicating and executing. The cleanup site (Pulau Ubin Ketam Beach 3) was recced about a week before to ensure that every possible glitch could be avoided.
But of course plans are seldom carried out seamlessly. I was greeted with an enthusiastic bunch of participants and everything went smoothly until a minor hiccup during the briefing at our cleanup site. I did not brief the participants adequately enough to hold their attention for long (or they were just too excited to start the cleanup!). Fortunately, Siva’s (ICCS coordinator) timely interjections made my first experience as site captain a great one.
‘Oops..did I miss something out?’
Everyone went home with bright smiles on their faces knowing that they did something for their environment. And you know it is a decent first job done when you receive an email from one of the volunteers after the cleanup saying ‘Thanks so much for babysitting us, and for being such a great site captain! :)’.
Site Captain, Ketam Beach 3
ICCS Ubin West Zone
This is the first year Thomson Reuters took part in ICCS – 17 participants led by an experienced leader. They came prepared with tongs and gloves and after an on-site briefing by LK, worked efficiently in groups of 2-3 under the blistering hot sun.
There were a few interesting finds such as a chipped porcelain buddha statue, spongbob squarepant figurine, helmet and a plastic tubing which resembled a snake!
The man and his helmet
The snaky plastic tubing!
LK suggested that Selimang was a popular site for Chinese religious rites. During the cleanup, the group encountered lots of offerings, floating lanterns and large burnt patches. It also seemed to be a dumping ground for discarded religious statues.
There is also evidence that campers frequent this area for they found discarded fishing nets, fishing lines and lots of food wrappers.
The cheery spirit I witnessed today was admirable. In addition, I am heartened as LK took the effort of asking her group to bring plastic bags for trash collection. Cheers to all the participants from Thomson Reuters!
What’s a cleanup without a group photo?
Cheong Wei Siong
Deputy Zone Captain,
ICCS Northeast Zone
Punggol is a site full of surprises. There are development plans for Punggol and construction works have been conducted along the coast of Punggol beach for quite some time — we are faced with the uncertainty that they might cordon off a certain part of the beach to facilitate their construction during the cleanup. As a result, as with every other shoreline in Singapore, we are careful to check each site and last August, I went for a recce with Pei Hwa Secondary School’s Organiser.
On the morning of the ICC Singapore cleanup, the site had not changed much– the Police Coast Guard were still sipping their kopi and reading the newspaper when ICCS participants at this site, Secondary 1 students from Pei Hwa Secondary School, trudged in and began working under the sweltering hot sun.
The coast was actually rather clean and there was not a significant amount of trash. When I asked them what was the most peculiar item found, the participants were split between the oil drum and a shuttercock. Puzzled, I asked them “why shuttlecock?”A few of them responded ‘weird to play on the beach’, while one cleverly pointed out that it might be a recreational activity for the construction workers!
55' Gal Drum
When asked about the cleanup, one participant Fatin, said “(I felt that) the litter which Singaporean left behind on the beach is quite saddening, as it may affect the marine animals and if it continues, there would not be any marine animals left in Singapore.”
It was heartening to see each and every one of the students putting in an effort for the cleanup. And if all of them grasped the issue as a result of their experience as Fatin did, the International Coastal Cleanup Singapore is certainly achieving much more than the collection of data for the marine debris index.
The whole team!
Cheong Wei Siong
Deputy Zone Captain,
ICCS Northeast Zone
After one too many photos of strangled birds on the Bird Ecology Study Group blog, I just had to take that entangled kite down. Stuck up a young Casuarina tree on Ketam Beach 3, Pulau Ubin, we noticed the kite from the long string which extended to the shore, during the International Coastal Cleanup.
We had been working the shore for about an hour, with the industrious students of the NUS University Scholars Programme and the Delegation from the European Union. We had been doing a decent job tackling the trash on a beach strewn with thousands of pieces of styrofoam.
However for a brief moment, I was preoccupied not with the new Ketam Beach 3 shore, but rather with getting up that tree to clear away that low-hanging kite. I called rather optimistically on the light-framed Evelyn standing nearby, before the low-pitched guffaw of Kenneth Pinto caught my attention. He gamely ambled over and hoisted my almost 100kg weight far up that tree that I could reach for the lower branches.
His effort was so impressive it was funny!! His whole body shook with the effort and that nearly had me overcome with laughter – but that would have sent both of us toppling! So I held it in and was amazed to find myself up fa enough to start climbing.
I got to the kite easily with thin branches supporting my weight but found it hopelessly entangled in vines. I thought of the scissors and parang in my full pack and shrugged my shoulders and started chewing through two rather thick strands of some creeper that didn’t taste half-bad.
Finally in jubilation, I was able to call out to the data recorder below “one kite!” and threw the tangled mass of kite and vegetation down. She neatly avoided being hit by it and the other students bagged it. Then I slid down and found Kenneth ensuring my descent was graceful.
An alert Evelyn, released of the herculean task of hoisting me up that tree, took the earlier photos with Kenneth’s camera which he had handed over for safe keeping. He took over to record my ascent and they weren’t too undignified to share here.
The series amused the rest of the coordinators back in NUS Lab 7 later and I was cheered by the effort myself too. For I was glad we’d avoided at least one other strangulation.