The 2016 Ocean Trash Index – what 800,000 volunteers in 92 countries generated during ICCS2015!

More than eight million kilograms of trash was collected by nearly 800,000 volunteers in 92 countries during Ocean Conservancy’s 2015 International Coastal Cleanup. The data is reported in Ocean Conservancy’s 2016 Ocean Trash Index which was released yesterday which you can access at oceanconservancy.org

Ocean Conservancy’s Ocean Trash Index is the world’s largest item-by-item, location-by-location database of trash found in near-shore environments, representing the efforts of more than 11.5 million volunteers over 30 years!

The solid pollutant of greatest concern in the marine environment is plastic waste with the top five most commonly collected items being cigarette butts, plastic beverage bottles, food wrappers, plastic bottle caps and plastic straws. This pattern is true of Singapore, but we see our list topped by expanded polystyrene (EPS) or styrofoam pieces.

2016 Ocean Trash Top 10

Of the 92 countries, the turnout in the The Philippines was highlighted for good reason –  more than quarter a million Filipinos retrieved more than 400,000 pieces of trash over nearly 1,000 kilometers of shoreline, weighing more than 300 tonnes. What a big relief for their shores!

Singapore’s entry this year is blank because the 2015 cleanup was cancelled due to the poor air condition caused by the transboundary haze pollution. Besides Singapore, Dominica’s cleanup was also cancelled, due to a tropical storm.

2016 is the 25th year of the International Coastal Cleanup in Singapore. Let’s hope we’ll be spared the haze, as volunteers are usually able to clear between 14 – 20 tonnes of trash from our shores. The marine environment certainly does deserve the relief coastal cleanup volunteers provide.

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Tender loving care for Pasir Ris 6 beach by the environmental stewards of Bukit Batok Secondary School

On 09 Apr 2016, 56 participants (44 students, 6 alumni and 6 teachers) of Bukit Batok Secondary School (BBSS) hit the beach for 90 minutes from 8.30am for a year-round coastal cleanup and removed 584 kg of trash from Pasir Ris 6 beach. This non recreational beach west of Pasir Ris Park is host to marine life and is not cleared regularly of marine trash.

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This was the third coastal cleanup BBSS conducted at PR6 this year, after the earlier cleanups of 20 Jan 2016 and 27 Feb 2016. They plan three more in July, August and September – the last will be part of the annual data-gathering International Coastal Cleanup Singapore. Isn’t this tender loving care for the marine environment and marine life at Pasir Ris wonderful?

BBSS’ cleanups at PR6 were carefully thought out. Mr Syam Lal Sadanandan, the Dean Normal (Technical) at Bukit Batok Secondary School wrote in November 2014 to ask for an opportunity to contribute to environmental protection. Emails were exchanged to prepare the group, fix dates and inform relevant agencies, before he and his fellow teachers met NE Zone Captain Yang Yi Yong for a recce of the site on 7th Feb 2015.

Ready for a series of safe cleanups, they conducted two on 14 Mar & 23 May 2015 but sadly September’s ICCS was cancelled due to the haze.

This year they are on track with three cleanups under their belt already, and have already relieved Pasir Ris 6 of more than a tonne of trash!

The continued and repeated efforts of small groups at a specific sites is extremely helpful for the protection of non-recreational coastal sites. So under the Year-Round Coastal Cleanup programme, we have tried to relieve sites of their marine trash load in a sustained but non-impactful manner:

The Year-Round Coastal Cleanup calendar at yrcc-cal.coastalcleanupsingapore.org
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The insult of marine trash on our shores is relentless. Certainly working on upstream issues is critical to the solution, and we pay close attention to those who champion this relentlessly in Singapore such as Zero Waste Singapore. In the meantime, we can help marine life immediately and directly. Thus we hope to encourage fieldwork-savvy groups to consider conducting more than one cleanup at a favourite site each year.

Sungei Pandan mangroves was a fairly recent site we turned attention to in 2008. It is no longer covered with a mat of plastic but we are not done yet. Some smaller sites nestled there are both tough sites to work in and sensitive sites we must be careful with. But we will persist and think of a future where none of this is necessary and marine life flourishes on our mangroves and shores in great health.

Meanwhile, the actions of organisers like the teachers of Bukit Batok Secondary School give me much hope!

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“Operation WE Cleanup” – 39 volunteers remove 403.5kg of trash from Lim Chu Kang mangrove [08 May 2016]

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Sun 08 May 2016 – 39 volunteers joined us early the morning for the “Operation WE Cleanup” at Lim Chu Kang mangrove. This movement is led by the Public Hygiene Council (PHC) to encourage Singaporeans to play a role in keeping our environment clean and we were glad that ICCS could support it!

Collectively, we removed a total of 403.5kg of trash (in 56 bags) over a 90 minute cleanup, leaving the beach looking so much healthier! There were lots of plastic bottles, straws, bags and styrofoam pieces of a variety of sizes. Where do you think they came from?

An exposed used syringe was carefully disposed – it is important that sharp objects be disposed properly and responsibly, to protect everyone who will handle the trash all the way to the incinerator. This is something we reinforce in every safety briefing prior to the cleanup – see Safety Advice for Participants on our website, which dates back to the 90’s!

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Medium trash load at Lim Chu Kang mangrove. I’ve found so many plastic straws within a small area!

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North-West Zone Captain, Adriane Lee.

During the cleanup, Adriane Lee chanced upon two mangrove pit vipers. Although venomous, like every other animal, they will not attack unless provoked. We kept our distance but encouraged everyone to enjoy the lovely view of the snakes on the tree. It certainly is important to be aware of our surroundings during a mangrove cleanup and watch where you place your hands and legs –points we cover in the safety briefing !

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The success of this and every other cleanup was due of course to our lovely team of volunteers who worked hard and were so responsive to coordination. It is a real joy to work with them and we are encouraged to organise more of these cleanups together!

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Happy volunteers in action – Part 1

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Happy volunteers in action – Part 2

Otterman shows how we work steadily on a patch of mangrove:
leave organics (including sand and mud) behind, and separate out glass”

Otterman sets up weighing stations with our lovely, obliging volunteers

During our Year Round Coastal Cleanups, we end with a debrief of the trash collected, type of trash and share information about the site, from its historical use to the present day and its conservation status. Our ICCS coordinator Otterman (N. Sivasothi), also identified ways in participants can reduce trash at home or at the workplace.

Sharing our experience with others is also important, he explained, as many would not believe the amount of trash that does settle on our shores in Singapore. We can all help by making small changes in our daily lives. No matter how small the effort might seem, collectively this can be significant!

Happy Singapore World Water Day everyone!

View 100+ photos on Flickr.

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Otterman giving a debrief at the end of the session.

Earth Day 2016 – Saving Gaia Beach Cleanup video (1 minute)

For Earth Day 2016, Mediacorp’s Saving Gaia team conducted a beach cleanup at Pasir Ris 6 and produced another short video. I love this as it features participants explaining why marine trash is harmful and simple steps we can take to make the planet a safer place for all creatures.

ICCS volunteers spread awareness about marine trash at the Asia Dive Expo 2016!

16 & 17 April 2016 – ICCS volunteers had a busy weekend at the Asia Dive Expo (ADEX), the biggest dive expo in Asia, where we were invited to be part of the Singapore Pavilion.

“Organised by the Blue-Green Alliance and National Parks Board, the inaugural Singapore Pavilion celebrates the Sisters’ Islands Marine Park, Singapore’s first marine park, and showcases key milestones in Singapore.” [UW360]

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We were certainly glad to see friends from NParks, the Nature Society (Singapore) and Team Seagrass at the Singapore Pavilion.

Armed with newly-designed posters and photos, volunteers Liwah and Delicia arrived bright and early on Saturday morning, ready for action!

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The setup team on Saturday morning – Wong Liwah and Delicia Cheong!

The information at the ICCS booth was news to many members of the public. They were surprised at the amount of trash on our non-recreational beaches such as Tanah Merah 7. And that inspired some to take action immediately, by joining us at the upcoming “Operation WE Clean Up” on Sun 08 May 2016 at Lim Chu Kang mangrove. How heartening!

At the expo, we met other like-minded individuals. David McCann is an environmental officer at Scuba Junkie, a dive resort in Sabah. It was inspiring to hear how they encourage their guests to participate in their regular beach cleanups and how they offer talks on marine trash, shark and reef conservation. Lovely work!

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Joleen Chan chatting with David McCann, of Scuba-Junkie.

Most of the ICCS Educators were new and we are delighted we have an Education Team! The training session the week before prepared them for their engagement with the public. It was rewarding for them to be able to share stories about marine life and the impact of trash in Singapore to a public who were surprised at extent of pollution right here in Singapore.

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ICCS volunteers in action.

Well done Delicia Cheong, Fathanah Binti Muhammad Saleh, Joleen Chan, Wong Liwah, Sean Goh and Nur Shaalihah!

Joys Tan
ICCS-IKEA Intern