Monsoon brings trash to S'pore's coast

NEA triples cleaning frequency at recreational beaches in the north to deal with waves of debris

Yishun Dam is one of the sites of unsightly marine plastic pollution, with debris strewn along its shores and plastic trash floating in its waters. ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN
Debris accumulating near the shoreline in Woodlands Waterfront Park on Tuesday (above); rubbish washed ashore in Pasir Ris Park on Tuesday; and trash on the beach in Sembawang Park being cleared yesterday. New waves of debris from the open sea wash ashore during high tide twice a day. ST PHOTO: CHERYL TAN
Debris accumulating near the shoreline in Woodlands Waterfront Park on Tuesday; rubbish washed ashore in Pasir Ris Park on Tuesday (above); and trash on the beach in Sembawang Park being cleared yesterday. New waves of debris from the open sea wash ashore during high tide twice a day. ST PHOTO: CHERYL TAN
Debris accumulating near the shoreline in Woodlands Waterfront Park on Tuesday; rubbish washed ashore in Pasir Ris Park on Tuesday; and trash on the beach in Sembawang Park (above) being cleared yesterday. New waves of debris from the open sea wash ashore during high tide twice a day. ST PHOTO: CHERYL TAN

The current north-east monsoon has brought with it a seasonal wave of debris washing up onto Singapore's shores, with the National Environment Agency (NEA) more than tripling the frequency of cleaning the 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 heightened safe distancing measures, which lower human traffic.

Mr Tom Peacock-Nazil, 31, 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 around benches, and sometimes next to rubbish bins, before the circuit breaker period.

Ms Yii Hui Lee, 38, head of green community Guardians of Mother Earth, expects that neighbourhoods will be cleaner over the next few weeks as the circuit breaker continues until May 4.

The group has halted all cleanup programmes in places such as beaches and neighbourhoods since the start of the new measures.

"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," Ms Yii said.

Thanks to the monsoon season, NEA has had to step up the cleaning frequency of recreational beaches in the north 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 said.

The north-east monsoon season stretches from November to April each year.

The increased frequency of cleanup will take place on beaches along the southern coastline when the south-west monsoon season starts next month. It usually lasts till October.

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

NEA said that all its drains are being cleaned at the same level during the circuit breaker period, and has assured the public 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".


ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

Monsoon sweeps in seasonal pile of trash from the sea

Plastic bottles, large storage bins and even a plastic chair - the length of Yishun Dam along Yishun Avenue 1 is strewn with rubbish brought in by the tides. The waste, most of it plastic, stretches as far as the eye can see. The current north-east monsoon, which typically lasts from November to April, brings to Singapore's northern shores a seasonal pile of trash from the sea, prompting the National Environment Agency to more than triple its weekly cleaning efforts from four times to 14 times.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 16, 2020, with the headline Monsoon brings trash to S'pore's coast. Subscribe