The change to coastal cleanups during the pandemic (and beyond): Safe, independent and sustained small group action!

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began in 2020, small group (as per national guidelines) cleanups have been suggested to anyone hoping to conduct coastal cleanups. With the infectivity of the Delta strain, a return to large scale cleanups are unlikely for the near future. 

Still, what our coasts really require are year-round attention. So sustained independent action is a timely change for all to consider, even when things improve.

So here are the guidelines: 

I – Safe, independent and sustained small group stewardship

  • Independent action – conduct coastal cleanups independently in masked and distanced groups of as per prevailing government guidelines. Supply yourself with a pair of tongs, gloves and a few trash bags per session hit the beach. 
  • Sustained stewardship – organisations keen to involve many people should consider adopting a beach at which small groups can be deployed over several weeks or months. Share the experience and appreciate the larger experiences of nature offered at your adopted site.
  • Which tide? Well, any time is suitable as trash accumulates on the high shore but a low tide will expose partially buried trash on the inter-tidal shore. 
  • Monsoon trash – East Coast Park is burdened with trash load particularly during second half of the year by the South West Monsoon from June to September. The north-east monsoon strands more trash to northern shores in the Johor Straits  such as Changi and Pasir Ris Park. 
  • Be safe – consult our safety guidelines for participants on the ICCS webpage (link).
  • Stash your trash – ensure your trash is properly tied up and placed next to a trash bin, and not left on the beach.
  • Be part of a community – the ground-up movement East Coast Beach Plan  arose during the pandemic, and you can join the supportive 3,000 members (and counting) on the Telegram channel.

If you meet others on the beach, enjoy the great company of fellow environmental stewards, take a photo and tag #coastalcleanup and the local #coastalcleanupsg on Instagram and gladden hearts of environmental stewards here and around the world!

International Coastal Cleanup & the Clean Swell app – contribute data directly to Ocean Conservancy’s global movement, which Singapore has been part of since 1992. 

  • This annual data-gathering exercise which works towards Trash Free Seas involves categorising, counting and weighing marine trash, in addition to clearing it.
  • Download the ICC Singapore Data Card here.
  • Originally scheduled on the 3rd Saturday of every September, you can conduct the exercise at any time of the year. They have carefully revised the guidelines  with the pandemic in mind, which is useful. 
  • Use the Clean Swell app (available on Apple Store and Google Play) to upload your data directly to the Ocean Conservancy’s global database: they consolidate global data to take action for the planet, so this is useful.
  • You can use the app to upload uncategorised data too; e.g. total number of trash bags and weight of trash removed. Upload this the same day, or else indicate the date in the remarks if updating past events.  
  • Note that the Clean Swell app  accepts data for weight of trash in pounds, so be sure to convert your weight in kilograms to pounds!

Organisations registering cleanups in Singapore – Organiser’s can register with the National Environment Agency’s Public Hygiene Council for the “Clean Singapore Learning Trail (Beaches and Parks)”

  • If you have a plan to deploy several distanced groups over a park, please register with the NEA’s Public Hygiene Council at https://www.publichygienecouncil.sg/beachcleanup
  • Please register three weeks in advance to help them coordinate cleanups. 
  • They offer several beach sites, and their page has maps and guidelines for organising cleanups. 
  • Register and identify yourself as a part of a network of concerned individuals and organisations. 

We are heartened by the interest, motivation and perseverance to tackle the problem of marine trash on our shores. Awareness of the issues has heightened and many new small groups have sprung up to take action – regularly and persistently! That has certainly been a heartening outcome of this pandemic. 

During the pandemic, the ICCS Otters have conducted masked, small-group mangrove cleanups, with rostering and safe distancing measures. We were glad we could still execute our National Day mangrove cleanups at Lim Chu Kang, albeit in a much smaller scale. And we have been planting and maintaining a coastal forest ecosystem at Kranji Coastal Nature Park.

Every action still counts – conduct a cleanup when you can, and join the One Million Trees movement to experience the therapeutic effect of nature. Keep well everyone!

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Suspension of organised coastal cleanups during Phase 2 (Heightened Alert) COVID-19 mitigation in Singapore (until mid-Jun 2021)

NUS Toddycats suspended all group activities by 2nd May 2021, and on 11 May 2021, NParks advised for a halt to volunteer coastal clean up activities. NEA’s Public Hygiene Council has updated their webpage likewise, suspending applications by organised groups (and the use of Cleanpods).

PHC Phase 2 (May 2021)

Singapore announced Phase 2 (Heightened Alert) on 14th May 2021, to dampen emerging community cases due to more infectious variants of the virus. This suspension thus extends to 13 Jun 2021, when there will be further updates.

And the mantra for the moment is to stay at home, so sit tight for the moment, everyone!

For active updates, discussion and advice, see the East Coast Beach Plan Telegram Chat.

Thank you for Partnership Award, Bukit Batok Secondary School!

23 Apr 2021 – the International Coastal Cleanup Singapore was gratified to received a Partnership Award from Bukit Batok Secondary School (BBSS).

There to receive the award was North East Zone Captain Keterina Chongm Dy Coordinator/Data Captain Airani S and ICCS Coordinator N. Sivasothi aka Otterman. Keterina organises the mangrove cleanups in that north-east zone and ensures BBSS has a smooth session at the coast byliasing with NEA’s PHC and NParks.

ICCS_BBSS_awardMr Syam Lal Sadanandan, Mr Phua Huat Chan, Otterman & Keterina Chong

Led by President Award teacher Syam Lal Sadanandan, BBSS have been an inspiring long-term partner, an indefatigable force battling marine debris, who expose and motivate their students about the issue in the great outdoors.

We chatted with Principal Mr Phua Huat Chan who shared plans about highlighting the heritage of the area, given that the school and town had emerged together, about 30 years ago.

ICCS at BBSSICC Otters, Airani S, N Sivasothi & Keterina Chong

Thanks BBSS, for for alway being such a strong and inspiring member of the community!

Wed 23 Sep 2020: 8.00pm – Chatting with International Coastal Cleanup coordinators from Brunei & Malaysia and our global coordinator, Ocean Conservancy!

After chatting with local inspirations in the recent webinar, we are now very pleased to enjoy an evening with national coordinators in neighbouring Malaysia and Brunei, Theresa and Eliza, who will share how they have promote marine protection during this COVID-19 pandemic.

ICCSWebinar 23sep2020

And we are all very pleased to welcome Sarah Kollar from our intentional coordinator, Ocean Conservancy, to our time zone to share global perspectives! Sarah has been conversing with national coordinators for months during this pandemic as everyone figured out how best to handle coastal cleanups and education about marine environment issues during the pandemic.

Register for the Zoom session at https://tinyurl.com/iccs-chat23sep2020, and see you on Wednesday evening!

Selfish (2019) – the 3D Animated Film by digital artist CHEN Po-Chien

This is an excellent, short animation film (2:27) by Chen Po-Chen highlights humankind’s impact on our oceans.

Po-Chen says while he recalls the lovely images of fish and marine life while snorkelling in Taiwan, the scene of tons of human waste had him ask himself how he could contribute to positive action.

Expand the video to fill your screen and share this!

“Selfish” talks a story about human beings are consuming delicious seafood, but sea animals are suffering from the trash we make — not only do we eat them but also make their living environment poisonous and miserable.

Selfish(2019) – 3D Animated Film from Chen, Po-Chien on Vimeo.

Wed 02 Sep 2020: 8.00pm – New ideas to battle the old problem of maine trash in Singapore, a chat with Little Green Men, Seven Clean Seas, Seastainable & Green Nudge

This Wednesday, join the chat to learn about new efforts and ideas to battle the curse of marine trash on our shores. Come and ask questions. Just register for the Zoom session at https://tinyurl.com/ICCS-chat02sep2020

Wed 19 Aug 2020: 8.00pm (Zoom) – Not impossible! Reflections on battling marine trash in the mangrove by N. Sivasothi aka Otterman

In the late 80’s, N. Sivasothi aka Otterman joined D H Murphy’s mangrove mapping team. As he measured trees, and later studied the fauna, he encountered a heartachingly impossible pile of trash. Who on earth would clear that trash? A decade later, prompted and supported by valiant volunteers, a small team embarked on its first cleanup in Mandai Mangroves.

On Wednesday night, he will recall just some of the methods, strategies, considerations and lovely volunteers who chipped away and showed him that this was not an impossible pile.

Sign up for the Zoom chat at http://tinyurl.com/iccs-chat19aug2020

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Glenn & Neil on Money FM89.3 asked about the phenomenal load of marine trash on the shores of East Coast Park

Glenn van Zutphen was horrified by the eyesore of marine trash on East Coast Park in late June (see the image he posted below). So Neil Humphreys roused me for a chat with the two of them on the Saturday morning after the elections:

Glenn van Zutphen and award-winning author Neil Humphreys speak to N. Sivasothi, Coordinator, International Coastal Cleanup Singapore, the National University of Singapore about the top coastal littering offenders, how tens of thousands of cigarette butts are injecting toxins into our very ecosystem, and what we can all make a huge difference in caring for our beaches and mangroves.

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“…if you dream hard enough, maybe some of them will come true”

“Now, lie down and dream of tomorrow and all the things that we can do

And who knows, if you dream hard enough, maybe some of them will come true

We now call it The Great Realisation and yes, since then, there have been many

But that’s the story of how it started and why hindsight’s 2020”

– Tom Foolery, The Great Realisation (2020)

Announcement: Suspension of the annual data-gathering International Coastal Cleanup Singapore 2020

Dear Organisers,

I hope you have all been keeping well during the COVID-19 pandemic.

I write to inform you that the International Coastal Cleanup Singapore will not be conducted this year. Yes, we are indeed suspending our annual data gathering coastal cleanup activity which has run since 1992. This is the fourth year in which the ICCS Coordinator has had to announce a suspension  in 29 years:

  1. 1998 – tropical storms washed out all the beach cleanup sites 
  2. 2015 – Transboundary haze
  3. 2019 – Transboundary haze
  4. 2020 – COVID-19 pandemic

Ocean Conservancy staff were supportive when I informed them last month of the likelihood of a suspension. Since then, my assessment of the news still concluded we needed to avoid promotion of a mass participation event this year. With 80+ organisations managing more than 3,000 participants in groups of 30 to a few hundred people, the safety precautionary principle applies and we will forgo the data-gathering coastal cleanup this year.

It will be a good time instead to reflect on the message of our many years of data, and to provide suggestions about how we can help to promote awareness of the issue, and review our practical actions for plastics reduction and sustainability. Last year, the Ministry of Environment and Water Resources unveiled Singapore’s inaugural Zero Waste Masterplan with a new target – to reduce our solid waste disposal by 30 per cent by 2030. This national target does require everyone’s attention and meaningful effort, especially with the new challenge COVID-19 has introduced.  

For individuals who are very keen on a safely-organised coastal cleanup, do monitor the Facebook pages of various volunteer and corporate social enterprise groups at https://coastalcleanup.wordpress.com/year-round-cleanups/. Many marine conservation groups are also offering educational online events as never before, which we featured earlier.

Meanwhile, let’s look forward to visiting our shores once again, first to appreciate what we still have, and motivate that urgency in all of us to do better for nature and the environment.

Stay safe and stay informed everyone!

N. Sivasothi aka Otterman
Coordinator,
International Coastal Cleanup Singapore 
National University of Singapore