Lockdown sees less litter in public parks, but monsoon sweeps trash onto our northern shores

The beach at East Coast Park, closed off to the public, on March 13, 2020. ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

SINGAPORE - The current northeast monsoon has brought with it its seasonal wave of debris washing up onto Singapore's shores, with the National Environment Agency (NEA) more than tripling the cleaning frequency of recreational beaches along the northern coastline.

In contrast, the parks and public areas in local neighbourhoods are cleaner, with the littering problem reduced since the circuit breaker lockdown began on April 7.

Members from environmental conservation organisations and green communities have suggested that this could be a result of reduced public usage and the heightened safe distancing measures, which lowers human traffic.

Mr Tom Peacock-Nazil, 31, the founder of Seven Clean Seas, a social enterprise focusing on environmental conservation, noted during his daily visits to East Coast Park that there used to be a lot more litter in public areas such as benches, and sometimes next to rubbish bins before the circuit breaker period.

Ms Yii Hui Lee, 38, head of eco community group Guardian of Mother Earth, expects that neighbourhoods will be cleaner over the next few weeks as the circuit breaker continues until May 4. The community had halted all cleanup programmes in places such as beaches, and neighbourhoods since the lockdown.

"Many cleanup groups work closely with the NEA and the Public Hygiene Council for event planning to ensure enhanced effectiveness in keeping the environment clean, so this circuit breaker period would mean that NEA and the National Parks Board would have to be the main caretakers of mother nature," she said.

Thanks to mother nature and the current monsoon season, NEA has indeed had to step up the cleaning frequency of recreational beaches in the northern coasts from four times a week to twice daily.

New waves of debris from the open sea wash ashore during high tide twice a day, and the cleaners are unable to completely eliminate all flotsam on the beaches despite their best efforts, NEA explained.

The northern monsoon season stretches from November to April each year.

The increased frequency of cleanup will take place on beaches along the southern coast when the southwest monsoon season starts in May. It usually lasts till October.

Drains along Meyer Road near East Coast Park, appeared choked with debris as seawater moved in during high tide flows.

NEA said that all its drains are being cleaned at the same level during the circuit breaker period, and has assured that the likelihood of mosquito breeding in these drains is low, owing to the movement and salinity level of the water.

Yishun Dam, on the other hand, was another site of unsightly marine plastic pollution with debris strewn alongside its shores and plastic trash floating in its waters.

In response to ST queries, the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) said it has been working with NEA and the Singapore Land Authority to ensure regular monitoring and cleaning of the shoreline along Yishun Dam.

"The Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore engages an appointed contractor to remove garbage and flotsam from the sea. Sometimes, flotsam and debris may be washed towards the shorelines due to the currents, winds and tides, resulting in an increase in flotsam gathered. This will require cleaning of the shoreline," said MPA.

"Depending on the situation, the cleaning can be a one-time clean up or on a regular basis. Agencies are working together to provide the cleaning of the shoreline along Yishun Dam as needed."

A one-time cleanup was completed in January this year and agencies are looking into starting a regular cleaning regime from the second half of this year, MPA said.

As for the collection of rubbish from ships anchored at the anchorages, MPA said that is done on a daily basis to ensure that vessels are able to navigate safely and to keep Singapore's port waters clean.

"The cleaning regime also retrieves flotsam and debris along the common channels, fairways and anchorages," MPA added.

It said that during the current circuit breaker period, MPA's garbage and flotsam collection services "remain unaffected and our appointed contractor is providing the services as per normal".

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