First rule of coastal cleanups – be safe!

This morning, Ivan Kwan reminded Toddycats on our LINE chat to be careful when picking up trash. Our shores are host to venemous animals and they can be nestled anywhere. Coastal cleanup veterans Quek Kiah Shen and Amy Choong responded with memories not of animals but of “sharps and needles” and syringes in Buloh and Lim Chu Kang mangroves in the north-west of Singapore.

Typically during September’s International Coastal Cleanup, volunteers remove 30 –150 syringes a year, but these are mostly from our recreational beaches at East Coast Park and Changi and not from mangroves. Around the world, cleanup organisers warn participants to be careful at beaches, because of the recreational drug users who litter. Even if syringes are empty and washed out so not a hygiene threat, briefings emphasise safe handling and disposal.

However, we are finding instances of numerous syringes in bags, on our north-western shores. These we suspect were dumped offshore. In 2014, this was highlighted at the pre-National Day mangrove cleanup at Lim Chu Kang, where we found, sitting on the shore, a bag of hypodermic needles.

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A bag of hypodermic needles on Lim Chu Kang by Chua Li Shan (2011)

Ria elaborated about the larger issue of indiscriminate trash disposal and the presence of numerous offshore fish farms in the Johor Straits. The trash causes a lot of impact to ecosystems, and costs a lot of money to cleanup. Addressing the issue at the source would be great way to prevent senseless damage – read her post which summarises the issue.

Finding a bloody syringe, though, is uncommon, In 2011, Kate Thome reported one from a cleanup at Kranji mangrove. It was rare enough for the ICCS founder leading that cleanup to send me this photograph below. Years of earnest, pre-cleanup safety briefings was put to the test!


The bloody syringe at Kranji mangrove by Kate Thome (2011)

Well, the safety preparedness paid off for the students who found the syringe calmly kept a distance and called an adult over. It was photographed and disposed in hard plastic, so that no garbage worker would be accidentally pricked on its way to incineration.

I tweeted that image and reporters Jalelah Abu Baker and Kimberly Spykerman picked up the news and wrote an interesting story for a general audience. We circulated it to Organisers as a reminder to be prepared and vigilant.

Registration for Organisers for September’s data gathering International Coastal Cleanup has begun. As coordinators prepare Organisers, we suggest they adopt ICCS’ “Advice for Participants” and by circulating the pdf early and covering the points during the on-site briefing, just before their cleanups begin.

Just like we will do so at Operation We Cleanup Up on Sunday 8th May 2016.

The Advice for Participants can be read off a handphone, and include these statements, which have been made more explicit over the years:

  • Place your feet carefully on the ground – beware of broken glass, fishing hooks, syringes and other sharp objects which may be present on beaches. Fish such as stingrays and catfish have sharp spines.
  • Examine items carefully before picking them up – sharp objects can pierce your gloves.
  • Do not use your feet to kick or feel objects.
  • Dispose of glass and sharps (e.g. syringes) responsibly – pad them well with numerous empty plastic bottles and dispose these separately in canvas trash bags – workers who transport trash bags later to waste incineration sites must be protected from accidents. Alert your Organiser.

In the months leading to the cleanup, we will emphasise safety above all else. We tell Organisers every year that it doesn’t matter if they mess up data collection, or report late, or forget to take photos, or are unable to eliminate the trash (there are other cleanups), the first rule of coastal cleanups is and has always been – be safe!

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