Auntie Oscar’s Field Experience Tips for Chek Jawa Coastal Cleanups – perfected over a decade of TLC Part 2

Following the previous blogpost on the useful tools, Auntie Oscar continues to share her invaluable experience with some practical field tips for a messy mangrove cleanup:

Bags Area  – Centralize bags together so that volunteers do not have to carry them while working. Appoint a volunteer (usually the data recorder) to look after the bags.

Get a Pole –  In every cleanup we can always find a strong pole or branch for our weighing.  The spare hook here allows us to hoist up the weight using the pole instead of sheer muscle man so girls can do the job too!

Losing your Sole – Classic example of a good shoe ruined by the mangrove. Usually volunteers with inappropriate shoes will be tasked as data recorder and sit near the dry area to guard our bags and monitor time.

Large Tire – [Operation Tire] took about 40 mins to extract as it is buried in compact sand. After some loosening, the tire resurfaced and adds onto our collection of treasure.

Buried Barrel – It took 6 people to dig for 30 mins for the barrel to surface. Hence tools are essential such as a foldable shovel.  We yell for [Operation Barrel] as a code to rally nearby volunteers to support. 😉

Marine Life – This large crab attacked us as he escaped from the barrel we dug up. We are happy for the feisty creature and set it free after a photo record.

Entwine – The tussle ends of large marine rope are often found wrapped around mangrove roots. Volunteers can wriggle free some parts but eventually cutting tools such a handsaw would be needed in this instance.

Silent Killer – It is amazing to see how plastics can choke up the mangrove tree roots as the tides comes in and goes out daily, the plastics find their way to wrap themselves tightly, suffocating the roots.

Sorting Area and workflow:  In muddy mangroves such as at Chek Jawa Central Sites, it could get a little difficult to record and pick up marine trash at the same time. Hence I have created the following workflow:

  • S1:safely briefing & group forming
  • S2: gathering of trash (no recording)
  • S3: bring all trash to Sorting Area
  • S4: sort out types of trash
  • S5: count trash collectively (data recording)
  • S6: packing & weighing (data recording)
  • S7: move  trash to trash disposal point.
  • S8: take group photo

That ends my field experience tips for a cleanup at mangrove sites. If you have any other questions, do chat with auntie Oscar:

– Auntie Oscar

Auntie Oscar’s Toolkit for Chek Jawa Coastal Cleanups – perfected over a decade of TLC

Auntie Oscar speaks:

“Every year I look forward to raiding the mangrove with my team of volunteers during the International Coastal Cleanup Singapore and over the years, we realized that a pair of scissors is just not enough! Gradually over the years we have a good collection of tools for our team.

Below is a glimpse of “barangs” which I have learnt to bring to my field site over the past decade of Organising volunteers for the ICCS, and I hope this helps you prepare your team with adequate tools for a cleanup. Clean and maintain the tools and they will last you during repeated visits over the years.”

Sturdy bags – One for dry items and another for wet & dirty items. Large opening means you can find and store things easily in an emergency.

Clip Board & Writing Material  – Clip board is handy for data recording. Always bring spare pen and go for the cheap ball point without caps instead of those ink type with caps that you can easily lose in the environment. Have a spare felt tip marker for labeling items, just in case. A plastic folder is useful to protect your data in a rainy weather.

Personal Bag – A change of clothes in case you get really dirty, sun hat, towel, water bottle filled up – no point buying mineral water and add on to more trash, insect repellent, sun block, candies for energy and loose change for the bum boat and van ride to Chek Jawa. The calculator is for the group final check, you can use your mobile phone (if your hands are clean).

Tarp Sheet – I carry this for volunteers to leave their bags on a clean base instead of allowing the volunteers to carry their back pack when they are working (not safe and not convenient). The tarp is also useful for emergency as a stretcher if anyone gets hurt, it can also be use as a temporary shelter if a sudden storm comes in.

Cotton-Latex Gloves – Ah my famous orange hands. I have been using these gloves for past 8 years and after a good washing and store properly, they still look as new! My team avoids industrial welding gloves because of their poor fitting. The cotton part is breathable even when it is wet; the latex part is still safe enough for us to pick up cut glasses.

Weighing Tools – I always bring extra to ensure the weigh is accurate and use the largest scale for trash such as thick marine ropes.

Hooks – Come in handy for holding up water bottles or bags off the ground, and can be used with the weighing scale as an extension.

Scissors and Cutters -I usually ask volunteers to bring their own scissors or cutters, they are useful for cutting off fishing lines and plastic bags that are caught on the mangroves. I also carry a plant trimmer (yellow) for thicker ropes. They must be promptly clean and oil with WD40 after use so that they can be reused.

Long Tongs – Useful for volunteers with bad back and for reaching that rubbish that is stuck between hard to reach places. The mini shovel is use to dig up edge of buried item.

Foldable Shovel –Extremely useful for a quick digging in muddy site and also used for leveraging hard or rusty trash that is stuck in mud.

The pick edge is also use for prying up rocks and other debris. Safe for sorting trash too.

Hand Saw -Used for trimming plastic drums and larger items that is half buried in the mud.

Measuring Tape – This optional tool helps us to measure size of peculiar trash or dead marine life.

Trash Bags – There are different grades of trash bags, the best are good quality black industrial ones. I will carry about 20 units. Usually I will ask volunteers to bring 2 standard super market bags for their walk around collection and dump it at our sorting and counting site before we weigh them collectively. The green recycle bag is too thin for use so please avoid them.

First Aid Kit – It is essential for a team leader to bring this for the team. Volunteers are asked to bring their own plasters in case they have small cuts. My first aid kit has gloves, elastic and triangle bandages, Opsite spray , antiseptic cream, tweezers for splints and micropore tape.

Storage Box – In order to keep your group tools and materials in order, do pack them neatly into a carton box and label it so that you can get ready for the next ICCS!

Footwear – It is essential to have the right footwear not only for your own safety but also not to create more trash!

The 4 pairs on the left are GOOD choices as they cover the toes, hang on to your feet tightly and can be washed after the cleanup.

The 4 pairs on the right which are light materials means you will get stuck in the mud! They are BAD choices as you might slip and fall or have to give up your ballet flats after the clean up.

Have a meaningful and effective coastal cleanup everyone!”

– Auntie Oscar

Plastic recycling is just not economically attractive enough to be a solution

Marcus Tay from International Coastal Cleanup, Singapore (ICCS) visited the Oil Spill Response Limited (OSRL) Singapore base for one of their regular ‘Lunch & Learn’ sessions, on Tuesday, 4th September, to share on International Coastal Cleanup and what marine trash has got to do with each one of us.

About 30 staff turned up and boy, was it an eye-opening session for some! The pictures and videos shown were indeed worth a thousand words. Marcus began by showing us a trailer of “Midway” – it was moving, to say the least. See it here:

During the session, more than a few got to find out that there are indeed marine life here in Singapore.

After all, everyone loves baby turtles! And who can forget, the “Olympics” monitor lizards competing in Judo!

Marcus also shared video excerpts by Capt. Charles Moore on the seas of plastic, who uses the iconic term “plastic soup” to describe our ocean today. One particular slide on the bioaccumulation cycle stood out.

On International Coastal Cleanup, Marcus shared the why the cleanup is more than cleanup – data collection. It was heartening to see a map of so many concurrent Cleanups that will take place these few weekends throughout Singapore!

One of the take-aways was what personal action we can take as an individual. Marcus was compelling in asking all to help solve the plastics waste problem at source: to only use what you really need.

Only this is the real solution as even plastic recycling has its own issues: It is not as easily recyclable as compared to aluminium and glass due to its low melting point.

OSRL Singapore has been taking part in the International Coastal Cleanup since 2008 and was at Tanah Merah site1-2 last Saturday, 8 September 2012. It was a first-time experience for a number of the staff and most cannot believe how much trash we pollute our recreational beach with. Needless to say, it was a tiring but well-spent morning. J

By Jeannie Kwara from Oil Spill Response Limited

ICCS Changi 2011: A Friend in Need is a Friend Indeed

“Can you help me print 3 copies of the data card before you come down!” – I hollered over the phone to my primary school friend I had shanghai-ed as an ICCS Site Buddy, Dennis Chew.

Yes, I confess – yours truly, the Changi Zone Captain, had brought the gloves, trash bags, weighing scales and pens for the Independent Volunteers but forgot about the all-important Data Card!

So even as my dear friend Dennis was about to head out to pick me up, I was asking him to return home to print Data Cards!

After a mad rush of 30 minutes, we arrived on time at Changi Carpark 6 to start ICCS. Phew!! We did pay a price – we had to abandon our hot and eagerly anticipated Changi Village breakfast!

Some of the Independents were already waiting for us – a group PSB Academy students from Korea, China and Singapore. Too late to sign up as an independent group, we had invited them to sign up as Independents @ Changi instead.

Hardworking independents

Their site was not an easy one – I had allocated them Changi Site 3 which has a higher trash load than Sites 1 or 2 and is less accessible – the nearest bus stop is a 10-minute walk away. But here they were, bright and chirpy.

I set my trusty site buddy Dennis to work with the Independents and headed out to drop in on various groups.

My first stop was Compassvale Secondary led by Mrs Winnie Lim where I kicked-off their cleanup with a briefing. Some students were bleary-eyed but I piqued their attention by asking “Why are you here to clean the beach? This is a recreational beach cleaned by contract workers who do a much better job on a daily basis!”

Yup, that’s right. At recreational beaches like this one, the main objective of ICCS is the data collection aspect which helps all of us understand the trash profile on the shore. With the objective realised, I felt confident as I left them to the trash and data collection.

After dropping in to meet the hardworking Girl Guides Singapore (South Division c/o Queensway Girl Guides) and Baxter Bioscience, I then called up my chauffeur to drive me to Changi Sites 1 and 2.

That’s right – my chauffeur! Who was none other than my dear site buddy and good friend, Dennis Chew. So for the rest of the morning, he drove me around and accompanied me as if we were on a campaign trail – visiting groups, talking to Organisers and participants and finally collecting their votes.. erm.. I meant consolidated Data Cards.

I did not manage to visit some groups but they were doing great – such as Dow Chemical Pacific (Singapore) Pte Ltd led by Linda Lim. She texted me when she arrived and submitted the data all typed in excel that afternoon; great job!

It was cool to see Black & Veatch (SEA) Pte Ltd led by Chen Feng who were all togged out in an event T-shirt. Catrin Huxtable was leading the Australian International School Singapore, and they were thorough, picking up small lumps of crude oil probably left over from the oil spill last May.

Our final stop on the campaign trail was to debrief one corporate group. With one of their top trash items being plastic containers, I compared the disposable plastic water bottle Organisers had provided to volunteers and the reusable Camelbak water bottle one of the company staff was drinking from.

Yup, it is that simple. With ICCS data pointing to the prevalence of single-use plastics reaching our beaches, we emphasise many ways to combat this – responsible disposal of trash, less use of resources or the use of biodegradeable material. But the most effective method is to avoid the use of plastic disposables in the first place!

Easily available now are reusable water bottles, carrier bags, tupperwares and the like. With reducing disposables being the most effective strategy, it is no wonder that “Reduce” leads the way in the 3Rs.

If you wonder if washing a reusable bottles will use more resources such as water and detergent as compared to disposables, check out this ecological intelligence article by the author of Emotional intelligence, Daniel Goleman in New York Times.

“Reusing” is a concept not only for daily necessities but for friends as well. Hmm, I wonder if I can I use my friend Dennis again at next year’s ICCS!

See you at the beach, everyone!

Adventures of Hope at the Chek Jawa cleanup

A “late” Zone Captain

The day didn’t start well for myself, the ICCS Chek Jawa Zone Captain and my entourage of Site Buddies – we were lost in Sengkang trying to pick everyone up! So we were not first volunteers on Pulau Ubin, ready and waiting to greet everyone else, as we are tradition-bound to do.

Instead Sukyo Mahikari beat us to Changi Point Ferry Terminal – they were there by 6.30am! Well, they did not need any hand-holding as they are efficient veterans, but still, it was that Recce Captain Andy Dinesh was on hand so early to greet them.

Programme Sheet of Sukyo Mahikari

The Commando Group
Volunteers from the Land Transport Authority (LTA) too were early, reaching Chek Jawa by 8am. here to tackle a new site – Chek Jawa North 2 – they had to walk more than 400 m from the Chek Jawa gates, past a rocky headland to get to their site.

This headland is the first point to be submerged by a rising tide so in my mind, they became the “commando” group – get in quickly, count, collect and categorise the marine trash they could lay their hands and GET OUT before the tide swallowed the headland.  Despite the limitation of time and extremely long distance to the Trash Disposal Point, they managed an impressive 420 kg!


“Commando Group” – LTA

Meanwhile, NPCC HQ’s site in Chek Jawa North was a 150 m walk from the CJ gates to reach their first data categorisation and cleanup spots – but first they had to brave a really muddy patch – NPCC’s Zhu Lin later reported one her students left his bootie inside the mud!

Rachael Li was new but a great Site Captain at Chek Jawa North – having spent the previous year on Pulau Ubin for hr honours year research project, she is an Ubin veteran. Supporting her was my old friend Dennis, a Site Buddy who is familiar with “heavy load” shores, after years at Lim Chu Kang beach.

The right tool for the right job
Meanwhile, the other “war theatre” saw Site Buddy Shriyanka head off with Juliet and her group from Ngee Ann Polytechnic’s School of Humanities.

Juliet impressed me as she got her students to a 6.45am rendezvous at Eunos MRT – with the warning that she planned to leave late-comers behind. The reason? From last year, she knew that tide certainly waits for no man! With experience from last year, they brought kitchen knives and cutters to tackle the ghost nets common on the Chek Jawa shore and did a great job of removal!


Juliet (far left, wearing yellow in a blue tub) with her students from Ngee Ann School of Humanities

Every two can do the job
Paul of St Joseph’s Institution International was accompanied with only his son, Will.  Unable to get anyone else on this Hari Raya weekend, they turned up gamely and worked well after everyone had ended to collect, count and categorise trash. Kudos to their determination and the reminder to step forward to a good job even in the absence of additional support!

Chek Jawa South – the last “war theatre”
At Chek Jawa South, Site Buddies Fucai, June and myself waited at Ubin’s big Pulai Tree to wait for Dow Chemicals and CHIJ Katong Convent. Fucai who exemplified the “buddy” in “Site Buddy” by hitting it off well with Christopher of Dow Chemicals, taking photos and working well with them.  The Dow Chemicals volunteers too took out the heavy nets along the shoreline which Team Seagrass had painfully dragged all the way from the inter-tidal area on a previous occasion.

Chek Jawa South was tough for coordinators because the access points are not obvious. One organiser even got a little lost with about 40 students in the bush!

Stalwarts CHIJ KC consisted of young girls unfamiliar with the wet inter-tidal environment but still, they got down to dedicated work and categorised over 2,000 items.  The school sends down their entire Secondary 2 Cohort for ICCS, providing them a unique experience at a unique site in Singapore’s environmental history!

Grow a little each year
I’ll end the post, and a tough spell for me as coordinator at this site, with my observations about the growth of the Sukyo Mahikari.

They started out in ICCS facilitated by the Nature Society of Singapore several years ago, at Chek Jawa. Last year, they stepped forward and organise themselves independently and reported at 6.30am with an operations chart with various subgroups defined.

This year, they added further refinements

White Paint Marker to label weight on trash
Pole with weighing scale tied with cable tie


Using Plastic Kapaline Boards to mark out the sub sites


Gloves and plastic boards washed and reused as they wait for debrief! Talk about efficiency!


No money to buy clipboards?  Cheap Plastic Kapaline Boards come to the rescue.


Sukyo Mahikari!

A well prepared group is a heartening sign. By working the same site each year, you can become better prepared, work more safely and efficiently, improve your education programme, increase your independence, improve methods and become a champion of your site and a stalwart of ICCS. What a sustainable and meaningful way to contribute to healing the planet.

In ICCS, we have been providing such groups registration priority and they can register early too. A few groups have evolved to become anchors for the ICCS and Zone Captain for this site, this is a hopeful sign for the continued protection of the precious shore we all treasure so much at Chek Jawa!


The ICCS Volunteer team for Chek Jawa:

From Left: Marcus Tay, Dennis Chew, Shriyanka Nayak, Rachael Li, Kuay Yingxuan, Yan Fucai, June Lim and Andy Dinesh!

The Chek Jawa Recce [29 Aug 2010]: the weather threatened to let us down but not Andy!

I woke up in the morning with rainy weather and checked NEA’s forecast: “showers with thunder for the next 3 hours”!  I might have been tempted to call off the recce but thankfully, the few organisers I called were already on their way. 

This year, with supporting evidence from the tidetable, we got ALL the organisers to come for the recce on a single day. this saved us the zillion dollars that Andy and I spent last year on ferry and land taxis. Not to mention all the fat from ice cream and Ayam Penyet.

As usual, the “super-onz” group from Sukyo Mahikariwas already there punctually and waiting for the rest of us; next came Paul and his son, Will.

Andy Dinesh, who had relinquished his role as Zone Captain of Pulau Ubin this year to take on the role of Recce Captain had not abandoned me. In Changi for a planned bicycle ride (to help eliminate some of last year’s Ayam Penyet), he saw the scene at the Ferry Terminal and his heart weighed heavily on him; as he put it “How can I leave Marcus alone with 20 over people?” 

So the 27 of us, Organisers and Site Buddies, set off for Pulau Ubin. 

As I was about to embark on my grandmother story of introducing Chek Jawa to the new organisers, Site Captain or Chek Jawa North, Rachael Li, stopped me with the waring that the tide was rising.

So we spilt up:

  • A) Rachel and her site buddy Angeline, leading Zhu Lin of NPCC HQ as well as Matt, Kinksi, Siew Hui and Yan Ni (LTA) to Chek Jawa North.
  • B) Andy led Paul from St Joseph’s International, “going to be veteran” Juliet and her student Benedict from Ngee Ann Polytechnic’s School of Humanities as well as my newly recruited Site Buddy Shriyanka to Chek Jawa Central. Shriyanka, a final year student from the NUS ESE program, travelled more than 2 hours to join us. I am pinning my hopes on her to be the Site Captain for Chek Jawa Central.
  • C) I led Mr Patrick Sng, Michelle, Mr Tan and Mr Soh from Sukyo Mahikari; Lynn, Mrs Koh and three other teachers from CHIJ Katong Convent ; Christopher from Dow Chemcals with his wife Charlene and Site Buddies Fucai and June to Chek Jawa South. I’d give kudos to this group as we crisis-crossed the site four times to the shore and back to the main path so that all groups were clear about the various access paths.

    Organisers of the Chek Jawa South Groups

    The evening before, Andy and I had looked for permanent landmarks at low tide which we could use to demarcate the sites along the coast to replace last year’s method of placing plastic orange signboards hanging on random trees 50m apart.

    This year (and thankfully Andy did take issue with this) the long Chek Jawa South shoreline was not going to be divided into 10 stretches of 50m which required breaking up participating groups into the right sizes. this was a lot of work. Instead, key landmarks were identified on shore to define variable stretches of beach which we could then use to insert appropriately sized groups or a mix of groups.

    Well, the recce went well, organisers had all their questions answered and we are good to go on the 11th of September!