Agencies, volunteers step up cleaning efforts as monsoon season brings more trash to S'pore's southern coastlines

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SINGAPORE - The tides are bringing trash to Singapore's southern coastlines.

At East Coast Park, for example, visitors may have noticed a hodge-podge of plastic items such as cups and bottles, and styrofoam containters strewn on some of the beaches there.

And those who think the trash situation looks worse than usual would not be wrong.

The cause? Not so much the beachgoers, but the way the winds blow during the south-west monsoon season, which Singapore is currently experiencing.

The National Environment Agency (NEA) said there has been an almost 90 per cent increase in the amount of flotsam collected from the beaches in East Coast Park during this period, compared to other times of the year.

The National Parks Board (NParks) and the NEA said that while there have been more visitors to the park in the second phase of Singapore's reopening, most visitors continue to practise good park etiquette, including throwing their litter in designated bins.

"The wind blows from the south or south-east between June and September, bringing an increased amount of flotsam from the immediate region, which accumulates on the shores of neighbouring countries and islands, including East Coast Park," said the agencies in a joint statement.

A Straits Times check at one of the beaches in East Coast Park on Friday (July 31) showed debris bearing the names of Indonesian brands, such as Pop Mie instant noodles and Ale-Ale brand drinks.

The NEA said it has increased the frequency of cleaning operations, from four times a week to twice daily during this period.

But the spokesman added: "Despite these intensified cleaning efforts, it is not possible to eliminate the presence of flotsam on our beaches altogether, as during each high tide, new waves of flotsam from the open sea will be washed onto our shores."

The sight of the trash-strewn beaches during her jogs so irked local marine enthusiast Samantha Thian, 25, that she decided to take matters into her own hands.

In early-July, she started a movement calling for volunteers to help pick up trash at the beaches in East Coast Park.

The clean-up sessions are initiated by individuals over the "Best East Coast Cleanup Plan" group on messaging application Telegram, which has more than 500 members as of Saturday.

Volunteers put down the date, time and location of a clean-up session, and people can sign up for slots in groups of up to five. They bring along their own tongs and trash bags as well.

Ms Thian said 32 clean-ups have been carried out so far, and she has taken part in more than 20 herself.

The founder of social enterprise Seastainable, which sells items such as metal straws and reusable cups to encourage people to use less disposables, said she hopes that the beach clean-up initiative could raise awareness about the harm of single-use items.

She said that while it may be the winds and currents that bring trash onto Singapore's shores, the amount of plastic debris that washes up highlights the broader problem of the world's reliance on these single-use items and the impact it could have on the oceans and marine life.

Volunteers picking up trash at the beach in East Coast Park on July 31, 2020. ST PHOTO: SHINTARO TAY
The NEA said it has increased the frequency of cleaning operations, from four times a week to twice daily during this period. ST PHOTO: SHINTARO TAY

Said Ms Thian: "The bodies of fish or mammals are unable to breakdown plastic, causing plastic to remain in their stomachs, which eventually causes them to starve."

NEA said it collected over 1,000 tonnes of flotsam from the beaches in East Coast Park in 2019.

A 2015 scientific paper published in the journal Marine Pollution Bulletin had noted that the impact of marine debris on marine life can be wide reaching, with the detrimental consequences from ingestion and entanglement.

Ms Thian also pointed to signs of the pandemic in the trash: Volunteers have found debris further inland near walking paths, including medical equipment such as surgical masks, glove and even a box of syringes, she said.

NParks and NEA urged visitors to be considerate of others when enjoying the park's facilities.

"Our parks, gardens and nature areas are for all to enjoy. Keeping our parks clean is everyone's responsibility. Littering not only spoils the beauty of our parks, they may harm wildlife too," said the agencies.


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