Backing up NUS’ foray into Lim Chu Kang East mangrove

I have waited years to deploy a team to Lim Chu Kang East mangrove. It is a lovely strip, erm, east of Lim Chu Kang beach and mangrove next to the old Cashin bungalow.

However, opening up a new mangrove site to the coastal cleanup is hard work. It requires several recces to ensure the site is safe for volunteers to work on, a site assessment to evaluate possible impact and how to minimise this and numbers of people to limit the cleanup to. Then it’s running the cleanup or finding capable organisers to ensure the cleanup is effectively well.

Well, then there is finding the time to do all of this.


The motivation to eliminate this plastic insult to the mangrove is obvious.

I had run the Pandan Mangrove site for the past three years and was sure South Zone Captain Kelly Ong would be ready to handle the site solo this year. So last year, I examined LCK East once again and set about identifying partners.

The NUS Environment Engineering students from ESESC have been handing coastal cleanup Organiser duties down from seniors to juniors since Tai Jo Fen got them started in 2003. This year’s trio of Vionna Luah, He Miao & Derek Ang attended the ICCS Workshop and were game for a challenge.

So we did the first recce in July with Jessica Ker, the deputy Zone Captain for North West zone and planning started thereafter.

We met again last week to sort out a few points. They had things in good shape. Still, I felt a few experienced hands would be useful and a buffer in case of emergency.

LCKeast Mangrove Crew
Site Buddy Yang Yi Yong with Organiser He Miao taking out a toilet bowl from amongst the construction debris, which I suspect came from the renovation of the Cashin bungalow toilet and kitchen.

New Site Buddy Yang Yi Yong was assigned to NUS in July. He had come for all the ICCS training and looked to be a good asset. But this was a tough site, I wanted even more backup. So I decided to recruit some mangrove angels.

Data Captain Airani S has been involved in ICCS since 2001 so knows all the operations well and even has experience with wet ops. Grace Leng is an outdoors-woman, my senior from campus and my TA during my honours year in Pulau Tioman.
Grace brought along two other young but savvy instructors from her company Creative Kids, Pamela Soo and Rachel Leng.

LCKeast mangrove crew
L-R: Pamela, Rachel, Grace and Jocelyne

Fresh grad Jessica Ker completed a mangrove research project with me in her third year and displayed enough mettle that I recruited her as my Deputy Zone Captain for North-West. She recce’d this site with me and was familiar with the area.

I bumped into former student Goh Wee Kee several days earlier and roped her in to the operation too – I still call her Conneraceae after her study subject in her honours year. She did need new booties but is field-savvy from her research days in NUS.

LCK East Clowns
L-R: Jessica, Michelle & Yi Yong

Meanwhile, Jocelyne, the ICCS intern was joining me to experience and examine operations for analysis later. I had also asked And Dinesh, the Recce Captain to video operations here this year; and he had been on the earlier recces with me.

So that meant, with Yi Yong and myself, the NUS students running the site had ten experienced hands in attendance.

I was their safety officer and Grace, a bonus on all counts, a field first aider and mum.

NUS Organisers
Organisers Derek and Vionna conferencing before the start of the cleanup

I spent the night fighting my flu and leaking like a faucet. I thought I might have to skip the cleanup but at 6am, I sprang up to get ready.

Once the cleanup began, my crew worked seamlessly. Grace had asked me at the start, “what are our roles?” And I responded with, “you’ll know”.

Best kind of briefing to be able to give. They all would know what to do when the time came. If there was an emergency, I know how to find them, having noted their colours.

The contingent was enthusiastic and spirits were high. It was a great way to work a site and we all chipped in various ways, wading in when others were hesitant, eliminating a supply deadlock, preventing unnecessary strain, introducing methods, helping with categorisation, working alongside with spirited teamwork, etc.

LCK Mangrove Crew 2
Top to bottom: Jessica, Jocelyne and Andy

After an hour, since I was not in the pink of health, I enforced a break to drink some really hot soup I had brought along to warm the chest and gulp some water to rehydrate. I had been perspiring so badly that my cap was dripping! Knowing when to stop is important – easier when you are older, I suppose.

A person with a suspected insect bite was brought to me and after I washed his face down, he was okay, thankfully. A student did break out in hives and I activated Grace who zipped him off to NUS Emergency in no time. I was completely relaxed about this because he was in good hands. Grace would later report that he was observed, injected and stabilised. I also inspected one foot of a nonchalant lady and she was right, the reported cut in her foot was superficial and not deep.

LCK East mangrove - ChaingangThe chain-gang moves 1.8 tonnes of trash out to the Trash Disposal Point to await pickup by an NEA contractor later

Airani was organising the chain gang by that time. This requires a little forcefulness to initiate since some will feel solo runs are more efficient – it just feels that way. We realised over a decade ago that a chain gang makes light work of the work load, so I was glad that she rallied the crowd to work together. That eased things considerably.

The wheelbarrows I had demanded we purchase were handy. I just have to send them to Sungei Buloh now since we’ll have no use or space for them until ICCS2012!

LCK East
The NUS students started working on collecting, counting and categorising trash immediately

The NUS students were great to work with, their Organisers had done their homework and were able to tap on my experience very quickly. Volunteers were great. My part was to ensure that they had backup with redundancy, in case anything went wrong at this remote site.

The hives victim joined us at LS Lab 7 later where we processed the data. He munched on the pizza and looked much better!

My crew who came all had fun, it was written all over their faces! Everyone loves working with motivated individuals.

I am glad we had a safe and efficient cleanup which left Lim Chu Kang East in a much better condition. The almost two tonnes we took out included more than 2,300 plastic bags and food wrappers and will ease the burden on that site. Having waited years, it was lovely to be purged of this anathema.

It’s just the beginning though, and this will be the first of several years the historical load is eliminated, leaving only the annual recruitment. But obviously we now have the means and the will to take on this challenge!

LCKeast All
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