Early in Sept 2021, I felt like UBU's donation drive for old towels, bedding etc for SPCA and other charities and causes was beginning to run pretty smoothly and I had a good process in place for it. I wanted my next "give back" project for UBU. Something local and community based, that creates awareness while also making a difference. I had recently attended a Singapore River cleanup with Clean4Change.org and @waterwayswatchsociety and it had refreshed in me the need for these events. So I decided - beach cleanups. I used to try join different beach cleanups every 2 months or so previous to COVID putting a stop to them and since then, I have been picking up rubbish when walking the dog or out at the beach on weekend mornings but lately, the whole "languishing" thing had settled in and I was just not doing as much and less motivated.
But no more.
The week that I had decided on committing to cleanups, we went wakeboarding and the rubbish in the water was honestly the worst I have ever seen it. It was like an omen. I know it was that time of year where the tides bring in the rubbish from neighbouring countries and islands but it still really shocked me. (Low point was when one of the girls was getting in the water for her turn and a dirty diaper floated right past 🤢)
WHY BEACH CLEANUPS ARE GOOD
Beach cleanups aren't just about making the beach look better. There's hygienic reasons for them too. And also very importantly, they are needed to help the ocean ecosystem. While some of the beaches here in Singapore are meticulously maintained, there are plenty of places that are not and do not have daily, regular or any maintenance.
I'll save the data overload for another day -I think we all know by now just how much damage incorrectly disposed of rubbish affects the ocean ecosystem. We've all seen photos of turtles caught up in ghost nets, fish stuck in plastic bags etc. Its awful. Marine plastic pollution has MAJORLY impacted at least 267 species worldwide, including 86% of all sea turtle species, 44% of all seabird species and 43% of all marine mammal species. If I can cleanup some rubbish and prevent it from entering or re-entering the sea and stops it from creating more harm, then thats a little win for me.
Beaches are also such a great way to showcase the damage we are creating, the impact of our purchases and incorrect disposal of those items.
THE DAY ITSELF
Mel (@mellyjaytee, our wakeboarding instructor at @edge_wakeboarding_sg) agreed to take me out and I asked Ebonie from The Bright Campaign to join me (of course she said yes straight away!) and we got ready to make a difference!
We arrived at Marina Country Club in Punggol with our cleanup supplies (rubbish bags, gloves, tongs, nets) and ready for action. Earlier in the day, Mel had advised that the water was pretty much rubbish-free so she would drop us off at Seletar Island. I was feeling super positive about it all and sat back and enjoyed the boat ride out there.
Positive Paula did not hang around for too long.
Once we jumped off the boat, I quickly realised what a MASSIVE undertaking this was. Just wading into shore, the amount of plastic underfoot really shocked me. Disgusted me in fact. And then I didn't know where to start. Ebonie started to pickup the trash from the top of the beach, where the sand meets the vegetation. I started picking up the rubbish in the water and at the waters edge.
Like, that first 5 mins was such a massive, big, deflated wow.
So much plastic. So so so much rubbish. We didn't even make a dent. We couldn't have made a dent if we were there all day. It was honestly quite depressing. We would need a group of 20 for a day to clear the trash from just that section of beach. I wouldn't even be able to guess how much plastic that would be. We didn't have a scales to weigh what we picked up but a low guesstimate would be 50kg, in an hour. That's all we could fit on the boat.
It was a pretty quiet journey back to shore. After a little drama trying to find the correct place to dispose of all the rubbish and a much needed shower, Ebonie and I sat down for a debrief (ie food, beers and vent). There was lots of frustration, a big sense of uncomfort with the situation and a lack of hope crept in there for a bit. I would say, both of us make a fairly good effort at reducing our waste, not using disposable plastics where possible, reusing, etc. I often quote Anne-Marie Bonneau - "We don't need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly." It didn't feel like that that day.
The main things we picked up were plastic bags, food containers, masks and tons of kopi/tea dabao bags - I never want to see those things again. The string wraps around twigs and branches and seaweed and they are so difficult to untangle - can you imagine how easy it would be for an animal or marine life to get caught up in them?! I also unearthed 3 backpacks half buried in the sand (so much of the plastic and rubbish gets buried under sand because of the tides), a handbag and multiple t-shirts / bits of clothing. Lots of sunscreen bottles too. 😠 (that's given me food for thought....). Ebonie came across bits of toys and a number of shoes!
(Side note, the eco friendly trash bags I got were not good for a cleanup - they cannot hold much weight without ripping - super disappointing. Will be working on a better alternative for the next ones.)
At the end of the day, it was worth it. It may not feel like we are achieving much but if one person sees me making the effort and it prompts them to do more, then thats a win. This is what UBU is here for.
It's also is a MASSIVE reminder to me to keep pushing on, to keep trying for better and making the small changes that matter.
Mel, me & Ebonie - post-cleanup!
So while the latest COVID restrictions have paused plans for a group cleanup, I will still be doing solo pickups with the doggo and a new adventure awaits in the new year. We won't give up that easily!
ALSO - The food at Dai Lou at Marina Country Club was VERY good! The pan-friend bee hoon was standout. Would definitely go back. The beer deals were pretty good too. 😉
Til next time 💛