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!


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!

2015 03 21 18 08 28

Trash in the Northeast! NE Zone Captains recce the coastline

Sat 16 Mar 2013 – The Northeast Zone Captains (Yiyong, Chen Kee and Kai Scene) conducted our first recce for ICCS 2013 during the morning low tides. We usually initiate site recces later in the year and were surprised by the amount of trash we saw along the coastline at all our sites.

It was more than what we typically see in September.


Zone Captain Yiyong and Dy Zone Captain Chen Kee observing the trash-lined stream at Pasir Ris Site 6

We started out at Pasir Ris Site 6 in order to cross the stream easily while the tides were at their lowest. We discovered a HUGE, hollow but very heavy log there. Where had it come from? Surely not a tree fall from the forest behind us, as it was huge with no roots attached. This must have been washed in by the tides, just imagine!


Huge hollow log Pasir Ris Site 6. A new find! Look at the size relative to Chen Kee!

We proceeded on our rounds with visits to Sungei Tampines, Sungei Seletar, Punggol, Sembawang and Selimang. The East Bank of Sungei Tampines was much dirtier than the West Bank. We saw bags of trashed placed neatly at the West Bank – signs that it had been cleaned up. Uncles fishing along the West Bank informed Yiyong that the West Bank was cleaned regularly by NParks. However, much work remains to be done along the East Bank – a task for the organisation taking on the site this year.


Trash along the East Bank of Sungei Tampines

The last stop on our recce trip was Sembawang Park. The construction there looks like it will be finished in good time for Sep 2013. It will result in a larger site if all goes well, and easily accessible too, with new staircases leading down to the shore.

While visiting the Northeast sites, it was great to hear that the guides for Otter Trail were in the vicinity conducting their recce. They visited Pasir Ris Park too! Unfortunately, we were heading the opposite direction and did not meet along the way.

We ended the recce feeling more prepared and ready to welcome organisers to the Northeast. Looking forward to a fruitful ICCS 2013!

Celebrate World Ocean Day with us @ Pasir Ris Site 6

In celebration of World Ocean Day, we are organizing a cleanup at our “hidden beach paradise”, Pasir Ris Site 6 on Sat 9th June 2012 from 8.30am.  Being a non-recreational beach, this beach is not cleared of marine debris regularly. The Northeast Zone folks will be out in full force to lead a team of volunteers to tackle the plastic strewn all over streams at the site.

Pasir Ris Beach 6

Cleanup @ Pasir Ris Park 6 Sat 9 Jun 2012: 8.30am-11.30am

Volunteers please sign-up at http://tinyurl.com/yrcc-pr6-2012!
We meet you at Pasir Ris Park BBQ Pit No. 64

Note:  It takes around 10 minutes to walk from the nearest carpark (Carpark E) / bus stop to the site. 

Click on Map for an Enlargement.

Why I resist peeking into the gift horse’s mouth (Reflections from the NE Zone)

My 3rd year in the Northeast Zone sailed by peacefully. Thankfully, for the three of us in-charge (Lim Chen Kee, Cheong Wei Siong and yours truly Ng Kai Scene), it has been a “stable” year. We got back our veteran groups and the only changes were the re-opening of Sungei Tampines and the temporary closure of Sembawang Beach, due to renovation works.

Yes, life has been good! So good that one of the deputy zone captains wondered whether we should challenge ourselves with a more difficult zone next year?!

Northeast - Some sites at a glance

Me? I am just grateful for the stability. So what if this year I did not get to “start-up” new sites? (We started Pasir Ris Site 6 and Sungei Seletar respectively in the last two years.) To continue bringing participants to cleanup these new sites is good enough to me. In fact, we brought many more people (240 in total) to Pasir Ris Site 6 this year vs. 64 in 2010!

I am particularly keen on cleaning up at places such as Pasir Ris Site 6 and Sungei Seletar, because they are easily forgotten pockets of coastline in Singapore where trash accumulates. Another easily forgotten spot, albeit a way smaller one is the Sungei Tampines mangrove. So, I would count the re-opening and cleaning up of Sungei Tampines mangrove as something worth celebrating this year. Sungei Tampines is located right in the middle of Pasir Ris Park. However, its east and west banks are hidden by trees and bushes. Other than the odd fisherman or two, regular park users rarely bother to come here.

Sungei Tampines Mangrove - Volunteers at Work

Our enthusiastic group of 20 volunteers from Miss Earth Singapore, Environment Resource Management and other Independents did a great job clearing 282kg of trash from the site.  It was also gratifying to read that our new volunteer, Deanna, had a good cleanup experience there.

Fewer changes in the zone also meant more time to think of other issues – and Safety was at the top of my list. Although safety is always at the back of my mind, the discussion about safety guidelines with regards to the bloody syringe incident emphasised the issue and I was in a heightened state of alertness while briefing participants and talking to Organisers.

I also appreciated the trash weighing and data collation aspects of our operations more. During the Sungei Tampines mangrove cleanup, I wished we had filmed our volunteers systematically weighing the trash and the Data I/Cs gathering to collate site data. It would have been great footage for a “How to Conduct a Cleanup” video in the future! After I briefed the volunteers, they were really willing to contribute and were thorough!

Securing the trash bags before weighing

Data I/Cs concentrating on their task!

Your not-so-ambitious, easily satisfied Northeast Zone Captain signs off here as she happily looks forward to attending the upcoming ICCS debrief and chill out time with her fellow ICCS Otters.

For more pictures of the Sungei Tampines cleanup, see the Flickr album.

Pasir Ris revisited

09 Apr 2011 – We went to Pasir Ris again today to make for reaching the beach too late last week during the recce of the north-east coasts. This time, the tide was low (less than a metre) and the weather sunny and our memorable Site 6 was the most exposed we’d ever seen.

Ed: Sembawang tides were 0.6m (9am), 0.9m (10am), 1.3m (11am).

Pasir Ris Site 6 at low tide, 10am: 0.9m (S'wang)

Nothing much had changed since last year – there is still a high trash load scattered on the long stretch of beach. This site is ideal for motivated and hardworking groups and “Independents,” who sign up to quietly take action andwith no fanfare, always working hard. Chen Kee, who is very familiar with the heavy trashload there, will suggest groups bring wheel barrows this year. This will reduce the back-breaking effort of hauling the trash over the long distance back to the disposal site at the park.

Lots of trash and big barrels to be found

Closeup of the stream-ful of trash

The good news is that the tide on the third Saturday of September (the official ICC day) is just as low as today. If we start early enough, we should get some good work done.

Sungei Loyang

This was my first visit to this site! We treaded on dried seaweed (felt just like the stuff we eat) and pity we were bootie-less which would have made it easier to walk on the soft ground.

Dried up seaweed lined the ground

Stream at Sungei Loyang

We stopped at the stream which reminded me of the egg & seaweed soup that my aunt cooks. However, this stream was “cooked” with seaweed and trash instead! Veterans Woodlands Ring Sec School led by Jack Chong are already signed up to work this site. Hopefully they will make this “soupy” stream a little clearer!

With this second recce, we have completed our recce tours of the Northeast and gotten our engines well warmed up for ICCS work proper. Our next step will be to finalize the groups at each site and help them be as warmed up as we are!

Map showing the two Pasir Ris sites visited

Captains recce tour of the Northeast

I like this time of the year when the Northeast Zone coastal cleanup captains (Cheong Wei Siong, Lim Chen Kee and myself) recce our sites. Besides the serious assessment work, I personally enjoy the opportunity to see places in Singapore I don’t normally visit. Also, I get to catch up with my deputy zone captains, who are my good friends and partners in crime, with whom I have collaborated with for so many years.

From west to east, we covered the sites in our “vast” zone – the peaceful Sembawang, the hidden Selimang, the trash-laden Sungei Seletar and the ever-changing Punggol. And embarrassingly, for me, this is the first time I visited Sembawang and Selimang!

Tranquil Sembawang
My first impression of Sembawang was of its tranquility, despite the adjacent shipyard. We saw a father bring his son out to fish and a golden retriever that jumped happily into the water. The trashload here is light and this should be an easy site for first-timers.

Sembawang Beach (Notice the golden retriever in the background!)

Hidden Selimang
Next up – Selimang. We drove down the small Jalan Selimang road, passing by the quaint kampong-like mosque, the Masjid Petempatan Melayu Sembawang, to reach this site. This small site has a high density trashload, littered with broken glass. It looks suitable for older students and adults.


Trash-laden Sungei Seletar
Leaving Selimang, we visited our newest site at Sungei Seletar which was “rubbish galore”. We were shocked by Sungei Seletar 1 and I exclaimed, “Which part is the land and which part is the sea?”

S. Seletar 1 - Where is the land and sea divide?!

It was certainly hard to tell for all you see is trash, trash and more trash! I no longer think the phrase “rubbish galore” can accurately describe the site. It’s a “sinful seaful of trash”. Chen Kee and Wei Siong remarked that this was like Kranji when we first started there (side-note: this is very telling of how long they have been with ICCS!).

Well , the upside to such “horror scenes” is the motivational boost to find a tough, hardworking group to work at the site – yes, we getting warmed up for ICCS 2011!

S. Seletar 1 - A sea full of trash

Ever-changing Punggol
The last site we staggered to (after that scene) was Punggol – the face of Singapore’s developing landscape. Every year, we are welcomed by changes in its facade and actually take awhile to find the shore! The Park Connector Network is now a nice and easy walk and by the time of our cleanup in September, I suppose there will be new park facilities like toilets as well – it does look almost ready to open!


Punggol beach from the new Park Connector Network

And so it was a happy Saturday morning for me, touring the ICCS Northeast Zone. Join us there for a cleanup!

P/S: We cannot report on Pasir Ris sites, especially the trash-laden Site 6 yet. The tide beat us to it! Site 6 was submerged but visible in the distance were dots of trash. We will be back!

Ng Kai Scene
Northeast Zone Captain
International Coastal Cleanup Singapore

How to clean Pandan with panache! (Reflections about the IAVE workshop)

The ICCS Otters kicked off their first event of 2011 on 22nd Jan with a cleanup cum workshop organized for delegates from the International Association for Volunteer Effort (IAVE) Youth Volunteer Conference. Held in Singapore this year, the conference was attended by 439 youth delegates and started by joining local volunteer groups at their sites of action. Eighteen international and local youth volunteers got “warmed up” for the conference by joining us at Pandan Mangrove.

As our trusty South Zone Captain, Kelly Ong was in charge, I relished the respite from zone captain duties and looked forward to an easy and enjoyable time! The fun started at the pre-cleanup meeting at Coffee Club, Holland Village, where we were spurred to decide team names and chose cute ones inspired by mangrove creatures. I chose Team Crabby, alongside Teams Otty, Skippy and Snaky.

ICCS Otters arrive early at the cleanup site for preparations. L-R: Dinesh, Jayanthi, Kah Meng, Jag, Bee Yan, Siva; front row: Kelly, Jessica, Grace, Kai Scene and Manuela. Photo by Kenneth Pinto

During the pre-cleanup meeting, we also also confirmed the actual day’s sequence of events and the pre-cleanup brief for the delegates. We had to synchronise our sub-group activity carefully as we had very little time (3 hours) to complete a workshop before we waved goodbye to delegates.

This got me thinking deeper about how to cleanup Pandan Mangrove (or any other site, for that matter) with panache. In less flowery terms, what a smooth and educational cleanup effort entails:

You have to plan carefully for a safe and effective cleanup. And amidst the details of the logistics and event sequence, it is vital to think about the take-home message for participants – I felt I tend to forget about the latter particularly during our larger-scale operations.

Another highlight was the importance of the site recce – even on the actual day, which group leaders did by reaching Pandan Mangrove early, well before the delegates. This allowed us to establish a safe entry point (no hornet’s nest or other hazards) with minimal damage to vegetation and to assess the trash load.

Kah Ming conducting the pre-cleanup briefing

Once the delegates arrived, they were directed to our four small groups for the briefing and tackled the trash for just half an hour. We were using the data cards so that delegates had an impression of how ICC volunteers conduct operations around the world in September – collect trash, categorise and record data, weigh trash etc. During this time, it was important to engage participants, demonstrate how we carried out various procedures and clarify doubts.

Team Crabby at work!

Back at NUS a short bus ride later, with time running out, we abandoned plans about blogging and concentrated on logging data before Siva conducted a short lecture on various aspects about ICCS – marine life, impact of pollution, the link to our daily lives and public education as well as how to start something small and nurture it to something larger and sustainable.

The next important lesson I pondered that day was: the ability to improvise! Although we had planned a detailed schedule, we made changes comfortably to keep things enjoyable with one eye always on the objective.

Post-cleanup data logging

The last thing about a good cleanup (and my personal favourite) is the interaction a.k.a. the trading of “war stories”. These sessions do enhance the volunteer experience and IAVE actually agrees, as their objective is to “promote, strengthen and celebrate the development of volunteering worldwide”. A reason for the annual IAVE conferences, thus must be to facilitate sharing. So it was good that we set aside time too. I told them about the many tyres found during the first Pandan Mangrove cleanup and found out that one of the delegates had participated in ICC Port Dickson, Malaysia previously!

As we were about to wave our goodbyes, we setup a Facebook group as the quickest way to keep in touch.

So, would you want to execute a cleanup with panache? You would probably need more than one trial. The ICCS way has always been to start small and improve with each cleanup. And because familiarity breeds complacency, even “cleanup veterans” need to reflect back on what they do every now and then. While demonstrating to the IAVE delegates how ICCS runs a cleanup I got my refresher. It certainly feels like 2011 has started on the right note!

Confession of a former plastic bottle junkie

This is the confession of a former plastic bottle addict – I was drinking water regularly from disposable bottles which I would discard them every few days. Spoilt by the conveniences of a throwaway society, there was no excuse for my behavior.

In our current time, groups and organizations encourage this addiction, feeling the need to give out free bottles of water at events, conferences (yes, even environmental ones) and corporate functions. Hospitality at the expense of the environment.

A sea of plastic bottles on Singapore’s shores
Every year, during the International Coastal Cleanup Singapore (ICCS), we get a glimpse of the tip of the iceberg problem with thousands of plastic bottles collected along our shores.

In the morning of 11th September 2010 alone, we collected 4,920 plastic bottles from various locations in Singapore. In another single cleanup at Sungei Seletar on 18th September 2010, 1,208 plastic bottles were taken off the shores! All this in clean Singapore? Plastic bottles, improperly disposed, certainly are the bane of our oceans and coastal ecosystems.

Plastic, plastic everywhere
Disposable plastic water bottles lining the shores of Sungei Seletar

A hazard to marine life
Plastic bottles pose a hazard to marine life. They can be mistaken as food by marine creatures and being non-biodegradable, they accumulate indefinitely – posing a permanent threat. The Wildlife Trusts estimated that in the UK alone, 177 species of reptiles, mammals and fish are at risk as a result of consuming litter at sea [see “Plastic waste threat to marine life,” by Juliette Jowit. The Observer, 16 Sep 2007]. Given its sheer volume, plastic is a significant threat in the ocea. Over a long period of time, plastic can break down into very small pieces which can enter the food chain. Even in Singapore waters, the microplastics are prevalent [Ng, K. L. & J. P. Obbard, 2006. Prevalence of microplastics in Singapore’s coastal marine environment. Marine Pollution Bulletin, 52(7): 761-767].

“How long ’til it’s gone?” (click to enlarge)

Bring your own water bottle?
Going cold turkey can be tough. I am the North East Zone Captain for the International Coastal Cleanup Singapore, yet I have been unable to eradicate plastic bottles completely from my life. I have often succumbed to a the allure of a old bottle of isotonic drink after a workout. While dining out, I try to avoid bottled drinks and my choices are reduced to water – which sometimes comes bottled! And all my favourite drinks which I have mostly given up, such as green teas and fruit juices, all come in pretty plastic bottles.

So how did I reform myself? Well, I simply bring my own water bottle wherever I go!

In Singapore, water out of our taps are safe for drinking! So why are we BUYING water in bottles?

Disposable plastic bottles should be an alternative rather than the standard option. That would reduce the unnecessary impact of manufacturing plastic bottles and reduce littering on our waterways drastically.

Organisers of outdoor events can contribute to this effort to retrain the masses by actively encouraging everyone to bring their own water. They need only keep an emergency supply at hand – we have exhorted ICCS organisers to do likewise and they are responsive.

There are more options indoors – meeting participants can be provided with reusable glasses and jugs of water or be asked to bring their own water. We can’t behave the way we did twenty years ago; our impact on the planet has been excessive!

And if you should drink from a plastic bottle, the least you can do is recycle it. Proper disposal is important for clean plastic water bottles are recycled in Singapore. Do make the effort to collect and dispose them properly in recycling bins – we really don’t want to see them wash up by the tide on our shores, near or far!

Recycling bins for the proper disposal of plastic bottles

Let’s drink to the good health of the oceans!

A year ago, I switched to carrying my trusty red water bottle wherever I go in the process, I no longer use a disposable plastic water bottle each week and have reduced my consumption by at least 52 plastic bottles. If we all doing this, think of our impact – or rather, our reduced impact!

While we drink to our good health, let us, in all good conscience, be able to raise our glasses to the good health of our oceans and seas too!

Article written in support of Blog Action Day

Battling “A Carnage of Plastic” with motivated Independents @ Pasir Ris 6

25 Sep 2010 – After two weeks, we returned to the Plastic Paradise today, with 21 enthusiastic individuals. The trashload was as high as we had thought it would be – plastics a.k.a. Public Enemy No. 1 was out in full force yet again prompting the phrase, “A Carnage of Plastic.”

A carnage of plastic!

Undeterred, we were motivated to fight the plastic threat with our will and might. After a mere 90 minutes, we collected, categorised and counted almost 3,000 items weighting 707.5 kg of trash. Of these 1,534 were plastic bags!

This amazing feat would not have been possible if not for the never-say-die spirit of our Independent Participants – these are individuals who signed up either independently or without much prompting of full-scale event organisation. A date, a time and a meeting place was all they needed. So much so they kept going even as I tried to call them off the shore after the requisite 90 minutes of the international coastal cleanup.

Just some of the Independent Volunteers who made a difference!

And this is what I’ve come to realize about coastal cleanups – people make all the difference. When you have 21 unconnected people who turn up at a remote beach on a Saturday afternoon just before the F1 race and unfazed by the earlier downpour, you know you can accomplish much!

An unconnected group, they all wanted to help – they were people who read our blog posts, saw our tweets or facebook statuses and included a father who with his wife and daughter volunteered as a family, and a lady who rallied some colleagues to the cause.

Thank goodness the weather cleared up before we started work, for it would have been a pity or this hardworking group not to tackle some marine trash!

Group Photo by K.C. Au Yeong

Organising this revisit to Pasir Ris Beach 6, I was reassured by the presence of experienced fellow ICCS Otters, Andy, Kah Ming and Kelly. I could rest easy with data categorisation and the trash weighing operations were in their good hands. A special thanks to my pal, Meixuan, who put her engineering talents to great use as a very efficient data consolidator.

A passer-by ‘uncle’ asked us why we bothered – after all, we could not get the site clean. I think of the “Starfish Story” – sure, the next tide will bring more trash in. But each plastic bag we remove eliminates one more hazard to the marine environment. Every effort and everyone who came made a difference!

I wrote this as way to express a huge and heartfelt “Thank You!” to the 21 champions who battled the curse of marine trash today. May your spirits never waver! =)

Ng Kai Scene
Zone Captain,
ICCS North East Zone

Ed: Sembawang tides for this evening cleanup were 1.5m (4pm), 0.9m (5pm), 0.5m (6pm) and 0.7m (7pm).

Is A Plastic Paradise still Paradise? – Coastal Cleanup @ Pasir Ris Site 6

A multinational group of 21 “Independents” of all ages gathered at Pasir Ris Park BBQ Pit No. 64 at 8.30am. This special meeting point is the site of embarkation to an untouched beach in north-eastern Singapore which we discovered last year and subsequently called “A Hidden Paradise” .

ICCS Otter, Lim Chen Kee briefed the group and equipped the group with gloves and trash bags. We trooped off to join veteran cleanup group, Tampines District Cuon Scouts who were already hard at work by the time we joined them!

Given our name of the site, we were amused when one of the first comments we overheard from the group of young scouts was “Wow! This is a Plastic Paradise!” They were certainly correct!

Across the coastline, plastics in a variety of forms were strewn all over the place.  Upon closer examination, shrimp were jumping in and out of discarded plastic food wrappers and plastic cups in streams leading out to the sea. It’s no wonder that we observed Plastic to be the “thriving species” here!

Plastic strewn Pasir Ris Site 6

Hauling up trash at PR6

The data validated our observations – in terms of items collected, plastic bags were the top item collected (520 items), followed by the mostly plastic food wrappers (304 items) and plastic sheeting (205 items). The sight of all these plastic trash motivated the independent participants. They worked almost continuously to haul and bag the trash, despite the blazing sun. We stopped everyone at about 11am as the tide was rising. Wait any longer, and we would have to swim back with the trash bags!

Individual Participants happy after the cleanup!

Thank you, Individual Participants for a job well done – you depleted some of that Plastic from the Plastic Paradise! You guys really roughed it out! It seems that the hard work is addictive, for one of the independents is joining us at another site next week for second round of hard work for the environment!

Ng Kai Scene
Zone Captain,
ICCS Northeast Zone