The trash on the Pulau Serangoon (Coney Island) shore – revisited after nearly five years!

Pulau Serangoon or Coney Island as it is better known by these days, is located off the northeastern coast of Singapore and is host to several beaches and a mangrove. Like any shoreline in Singapore, it suffers from a marine trash load.

After it was connected to the mainland by reclamation, Sivasothi aka Otterman examined the area as a potential cleanup site in June 2011.  He was unable to open the site then due to safety issues and has been wondering when ICCS could begin operations there.

Now, things are finally happening! The island has been developed as a park and managed by NParks. there are safe access routes to the beaches and trash on the inter-tidal shore is cleared by NEA on a daily basis.

However, NParks which manages the high shore reports an ever present trash load. And they urged us to get things started! So on 18 Feb 2016, I visited Coney Island for a site recce with NParks’ park manager Alex Tam.

Coney Island can now be accessed via the Coney Island West Entrance by taking bus 84 from Punggol MRT. It took me just a five minutes walk from the bus stop to the West Gate.

Coney Island Location

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This was my first visit to Coney Island and I was warmly welcomed by the calls of orioles and magpie robins. What a beautiful place! Yet, the five beaches (A to E) and mangrove on the island revealed a different sight.

Beach E (400m) – The beach is easy to locate and access, and the entry point is suitable for an assembly area and trash disposal point. Although Coney Island beaches are regularly cleared by NEA contractors, a medium load of trash accumulates on the strand line and in the inland vegetation. The trash load is characterised by styrofoam pieces, plastics and some bulky items. Volunteers will have to avoid picking up twigs and wooden pieces as they clear trash.

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Beach D (300m) – The trash load is medium to high, with more bulky items observed, such as fishing nets, tyre and barrels.

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The inland vegetation is peppered with plastic bottles and some glass bottles. Volunteers will have to be careful with glass pieces even if wearing gloves. Despite a cleanup by 50 students a fortnight ago (photo on the left below), a horrendous amount of trash remains!

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Beach C (100m)– This is a very a short stretch of beach, and the end is clearly demarcated by the stream, which is cleaned twice a week.

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Beach A to B – This is something that Beach A and B might look like. More details after the next recce trip!

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Mangrove – This is a small patch of about three to five footballs fields and can be entered via a boardwalk. The trash load appears low, but more after a second recce.

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When conducting a much needed coastal cleanup at Coney Island, organisers will have to be advised about the presence of only a single toilet at the eastern end of the island. And it is advisable for volunteers to wear long-sleeved thin shirts and pants as precautions against sandflies. I didn’t get bitten, but many have been after the park was opened.

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Toilet on Coney Island. Source: littledayout

It was good to be able to review the site, and we hope to invite Organsiers to tackle the burden of marine trash at this site soon!

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The awful sight of trash in the Sungei Pandan mangrove

15 June 2015 & 7 July 2015 – We headed down to Sungei Pandan Mangrove (SP1) in preparation for the Youth Day Mangrove Cleanup on 11 July 2015. We had previously organised a cleanup at Sungei Pandan Mangrove for World Water Day on 21 March 2015, where some of our participants reported sightings of the smooth-coated otter (Lutrogale perspicillata) in the river!

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Despite great news of otters in the habitat, the sight of plastic bottles amongst the vegetation still gets extremely depressing. The patch of mangrove is small and unprotected, and it is rarely cleaned. Trash therefore accumulates, making the ecosystem inhospitable for biodiversity to thrive.

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After examining the trash load and determining how much manpower and logistics would be needed on Saturday, we admired the Tree-climbing Crabs (Perisesarma sp.), Rodong Snails (Telescopium telescopium) and Red Berry Snails (Assiminea sp.). Despite it’s located in an industrial area, Pandan Mangrove still has mangrove life!

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Our participants on Saturday will not only take away the message of marine trash and the impact it has on the natural environment, but also the value of our local mangrove habitats. Singapore isn’t just a concrete jungle, but our surviving ecosystems deserve recognition! Here’s to a successful Youth Day celebration!

The marine trash on Tanah Merah beach is appalling!

25 May 2015 – Tanah Merah Zone Captain Joleen Chan and myself headed down to Tanah Merah Beach 7 in preparation for the World Environment Day Coastal Cleanup on 6 June 2015.

I was last here during the Chinese New Year Coastal Cleanup (26 Feb 2015) where we removed 43 trash bags of trash weighing 386 kg. The trash then was concentrated along the strandline, as the intertidal zone having been cleaned during last September’s ICCS and probably intermittently since by NEA.

At the recce now, trash was once again dispersed throughout the beach with not an area unaffected.

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The first section of the beach was already covered in styrofoam (expanded polystyrene) and other plastics. Plastic straws in particular stood out as they were visible throughout the intertidal zone.

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We picked up as many plastic straws we could find within a 2.5 m x 2.5 m quadrat and the count was 257 straws! Imagine the number of straws we could find over the entire beach!

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Left: The straws we picked in the 2.5m2 quadrant. Right: Joleen with a box filled with trash she collected.

Despite the depressing nature of our recce, we were fortunate to still see much marine life on the beach. Tanah Merah 7 is usually closed to members of the public and this relatively undisturbed. Marine life which can cope with the existing pressure on the shoreline has a chance to thrive!

We were excited to encounter a Haddon’s Carpet Anemone (Stichodactyla haddoni) in the first 10 minutes, and saw a smaller one towards the end of our recce!

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Haddon’s Carpet Anemone (Stichodactyla haddoni)

As we assessed the trash load in subsequent bays, we heard a familiar sound of five smooth-coated otters (Lutrogale perspicillata) running from the vegetation towards the sea! We spent a happy 30 seconds watching them, before they disappeared behind the seawall and on their journey.

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Five smooth-coated otters (Lutrogale perspicillata)

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Left: Batillaria snails (Batillaria zonalis) were observed in large numbers throughout the shoreline. Here you can also see tiny strands of Tape Seagrass (Enhalus acoroides). Right: Codium green seaweed (Codium sp.)

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Beautiful flowers of Sea Hibiscus (Talipariti tiliaceum) had dropped to the sand.

All that marine life surviving amidst the trash was a great reminder for why we conduct coastal cleanups. The beauty of the natural landscape, highlighted by individual organisms, was tainted by the mindless and countless pieces of styrofoam, straws, plastic bags and plastic bottles. Besides the biological and chemical impact on the environment, that trash reflects an absence of respect for nature.

To see a habitat so devalued and polluted saddened me greatly. The difference we will make during the World Environment Day Coastal Cleanup at Tanah Merah Beach must extend to action in our daily lives, as we realise the far reaching effectg of our urban lifestyles to the environment.

The Earth Day Coastal Cleanup recce @ Pasir Ris Beach 6 – welcoming new volunteers!

12 Apr 2015 – NE Zone Captain Yi Yong and ICCS Intern Becky Lee welcomed four new ICCS Otters to our Earth Day recce at Pasir Ris Beach 6. These volunteers responded to the call for new volunteers issued in early March, and attended our our first meeting on 20 Mar 2015 to learn more about what we do in ICCS.

On the recce, they learnt about evaluating the trash load, identifying trash collection and disposal points and working out the risk and safety issues. It also gave us an opportunity focus to get to know each other better!

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Our new Otters! From left: Maludin (Deputy South Zone Captain), Elizabeth (Site Buddy), Hung (East Coast Zone Site Buddy), Fanghui (Site Buddy), with Yi Yong, our Northeast Zone Captain on the far right.

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Everyone was shocked by the amount of accumulated plastic, especially on the far end of the beach and on the high strandline. As we walked the 350m stretch of beach, Yi Yong shared his experiences of working this beach over the years and talked about many layers of trash that was still buried underneath the sand we were walking on. During the monsoon, high tide bring in higher amounts of flotsam which is dominated by plastic, styrofoam, and wood with sharp protruding nails.

In recreational beaches such as East Coast Park, trash is cleared daily by NEA workers below the strand line and sometimes twice daily! Above the strand line in these parks, NParks has workers tending to the cleanliness of our beaches. This is the reason why Singaporeans enjoy clean beaches! However Pasir Ris Beach 6 lies beyond the Pasir Ris Park area, so trash accumulates. This affects beaches around the world, even seemingly pristine tourist destinations such as Phuket.

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Amidst the trash of Pasir Ris Beach 6, marine life still persists. We were struck by the appearance of numerous horseshoe crab moults. These animals come form a line which has been present on the planet for more than 445 million years! Only four species are present worldwide and we are lucky to have two on our shores, the mangrove horseshoe crab (Carcinoscorpius rotundicauda) and the coastal horseshoe crab (Tachypleus gigas).

Seeing the moults on the beach are a reminder of the life our coastlines still do hold despite all that trash. This is an important part of our motivation for the cleanups – we want to make our shorelines a more habitable environment for marine life!

The recce not only familiarised our new volunteers with examples of local biodiversity, but the beach itself. This is an important part of an organiser’s preparation for conducting a coastal cleanup. On 18 Apr 2015, the Earth Day Coastal Cleanup was conducted with rousing success!

Thank you Maludin, Elizabeth, Fanghui and Hung for assisting the ICCS’ Earth Day operations, and we look forward to working with you all together as ICCS Otters!

ICCS Zone Captain (NW & NE) recces of 15 sites in Mar 2015

Weekend of 07 & 08 Mar 2015 – ICCS Zone Captains and the Intern visited 15 different cleanup sites in the Northwest and Northeast zones to conduct preliminary recces. We examined four large sites in the Northwest on Saturday and 11 sites in the Northeast on Sunday. Certainly much work is needed to help our mangrove and coastal areas cope with the load of marine trash!

Sites examined:

Northwest Zone: Zone Captain Adriane Lee & Intern Becky Lee

  1. Kranji East mangrove
  2. Lim Chu Kang East mangrove
  3. Sungei Buloh West mangrove
  4. Lim Chu Kang beach and mangrove

Northeast Zone: Zone Captains Yang Yi Yong & Ng Kai Scene & Intern Becky Lee

  1. Sungei Loyang
  2. Pasir Ris Beach 1
  3. Pasir Ris Beach 2
  4. Pasir Ris Beach 6
  5. Sungei Tampines
  6. Punggol Beach 1
  7. Punggol Beach 2
  8. Sungei Seletar 1
  9. Sungei Seletar 2
  10. Selimang Beach
  11. Sembawang Beach

At Kranji East Mangrove in the Northwest, we were greeted by a truck load of trash.

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Discarded fishing nets are entangled amongst mangrove roots, and pulling them out, Adriane discovered a horseshoe crab trapped inside. He gently removed the animal and placed it back on the shore but it was no longer moving.

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At Lim Chu Kang East mangrove, the strandline was polluted with discarded nets, plastic bottles, plastic oil containers, tarp sheets, and of course – styrofoam.

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The situation at Lim Chu Kang Jetty:

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The mangroves were multi-colored, peppered with food containers, detergent bottles, beer cans, plastic bottles and styrofoam.

On Sunday, we began with Sungei Loyang at a very low tide which exposed the accumulated trash at that mangrove.

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Pasir Ris Beaches 1 and 2 are recreational beaches cleaned daily by professional cleaners. There tiny fragments of plastic and styrofoam littered the strandline.

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Our Northeast Zone Captains; Chen Kee, Yi Yong and Kai Scene!

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Plastics and styrofoam bits on our beaches are a common site. You can see this even on Pasir Ris Beach 2, a recreational beach cleaned daily by cleaners.

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Pasir Ris Beach 6 is adjacent to Pasir Ris Park and not cleaned daily by clears. there the trash load burden on marine life is higher

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Sungei Seletar presented an amazing scene – barely any land was left to be seen from under the trash cover.

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We wrapped up the recces for the weekend, with adamant spirits and determination boiling within us. The battle with marine trash will never end, but we hope as ICCS participants hit the shores and witness this pollution in Clean and Green Singapore, the reflection of our lifestyles and day-to-day habits will trigger action and encourage more environmentally-friendly practices. Together we can and MUST make an impact to protect our oceans.

Recce for the World Water Day Mangrove Cleanup @ Sungei Pandan

ICCS celebrates World Water Day this year with a coastal cleanup at Sungei Pandan Mangrove, (the SP2 site) on Saturday the 21st of March 2015. In preparation for this, the South Zone Captain Lim Cheng Puay and myself headed down to the mangrove for a recce on 24 Feb 2015.

ICCS Map  Sungei Pandan mangrove

The tide was high (3.00pm – 2.8m; 4,00pm – 2.8m) and we were able to observe the mangrove from walking along Jalan Buroh. In the first photo below, you can see the mangroves right in the center of the picture, where the river curves slightly leftwards.

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Despite the high tide, accumulated trash was clearly seen on the strandline – and that was certainly a disconcerting sight. The mangrove was peppered with lots of styrofoam containers, plastic bags and disposable bottles – the usual suspects, along with aluminium cans and paper cups.

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It was not all trash – mudskippers, snails, and the work of mud lobsters and mangrove crabs were clearly evident. With critters like these living in the mangrove, it is essential that we volunteers pay attention to our surroundings and avoid trampling lobster mounds, pneumatophores and burrow holes. To minimize our impact, there will be a limit of 50 people for the World Water Day event and they will be well distributed over the site.

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Mud lobster mounds!

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Cheng Puay also introduced me to some wild Passiflora (passion fruit),
which has edible seeds like its cultivated cousin!

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This bus stop, along with another similar-sized sheltered area on the other side of the mangrove, will be the only places to shelter us from heavy rains in the case of bad weather. Here’s to hoping for a sunny 21st of March 2015!

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We will have to be careful about weaver ants too! Cheng Puay picked up a few fiery bites, and we will have warn participants about “weaved” leaves during the cleanup.

As our recce took place during high tide, a second recce will be conducted closer to the actual date. The muddy mangrove waters might be hiding trash in lower zones and mudflats from our sight, so a low tide inspection beckons!

Here are some photographs Cheng Puay took two years ago,
during low tide at Pandan Mangrove:
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A second trash load is revealed during the low tide, with trash present even in between and around mangrove roots and participants will have to carefully navigate around mangrove structures to prevent damage.

We are looking forward to meeting our lovely volunteers that day, whom we have advised to come prepared with at least 1.5 liters of water and hard-soled covered shoes, preferably booties. Mosquito repellant and a hat is always handy! We will of course send them the “ICCS Advise to Participants” before the cleanup.

The effort to clear marine trash in the Sungei Pandan mangrove, a precious remnant of this ecosystem in the south of Singapore, has its origins in the mangrove mapping project at NUS in 1987! The first cleanup was organised in 2008 and tonnes of trash have been removed since and with great timing, the smooth-coated otter appears to have returned to the area! Read about that on Otterman’s blog, “Keeping old promises – clearing the trash in Sungei Pandan mangroves.”

It is great to be part of this, and visiting the cleanup site inspired me to sketch a watercolor piece which highlights the intricate ecosystem we are part of. Here’s to a meaningful and enjoyable World Water Day cleanup everyone!

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Recce at Tanah Merah 7 reveals a heavy trash load on the high shoreline

24 Feb 2015 – A recce was conducted in preparation for the Chinese New Year Coastal Cleanup by Ridge View Residential College (RVRC) students taking GEM1917 – Understanding And Critiquing Sustainability.

As we left Tanah Merry Ferry Terminal and entered State Land, the beach appeared rather clean. Had NEA cleaners been hard at work here after the September cleanup for ICCS?

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A seemingly clean beach with tiny balls of sand created by the Sand Bubbler Crab

The trash revealed itself to us slowly, as we walked further away from Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal.

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And at the high shoreline, the accumulated trash among the vegetation:

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Barnacles growing on the surface of a discarded container: IMG_2008

There was still signs of life at the beach! We saw many holes in the ground (homes of crabs), acorn worm poop, moths and herons.

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 Not all hope is lost!

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It’s TIME to STEP up in preserving our marine life!

All the photos on Flickr.