Plas­tic detox

A beach in Miri, Sarawak, is cleaned up. But it’s just a short term mea­sure.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Ecowatch - By SL WONG

Teacher and sea scout leader Amri Azmi brought his four chil­dren to the Miri beach cleanup to teach them the im­por­tance of tak­ing care of the ocean’s health. — SL WONG THE four sib­lings were up at 6am, im­pa­tient to get go­ing. Af­ter all, to­day was the day of the big beach cleanup.

They were only four, five, seven and nine years old, but they loved na­ture. And they loved the idea of do­ing some­thing for Mother Earth to­gether with other peo­ple.

In fact, Azhan Zulfa an-Na­jla, Akram Fi­ras al-Hameez, Ah­naf Razin al-Hameez and Akhtar Ha­nis an-Na­jla were among a record 300 vol­un­teers who turned up at Ma­rina Bay in Miri, Sarawak, last month for the city’s largest beach cleanup.

The vol­un­teers bagged an es­ti­mated 500kg of rub­bish from a 600m stretch of recre­ational beach. This event kicked off Miri’s first World Oceans Day (WOD) cel­e­bra­tion. Or­gan­ised by a coali­tion of non-gov­ern­men­tal or­gan­i­sa­tions (NGOs), lo­cal gov­ern­ment and aca­demics, it fea­tured nu­mer­ous ac­tiv­i­ties through­out the month of July.

“We hope that all these ac­tiv­i­ties will help the ocean,” said the event’s co-or­gan­is­ing chair­per­son Datin Judy Wan Mor­shidi of the Malaysian Red Cres­cent Miri chap­ter. “But for it to hap­pen, strong sup­port from the peo­ple is re­quired.”

Par­tic­u­larly alarm­ing is marine plas­tic pol­lu­tion, the global con­ser­va­tion fo­cus of this year’s WOD (which of­fi­cially falls on June 8). Ac­cord­ing to the United Na­tions En­vi­ron­ment Pro­gram (UNEP), eight mil­lion tonnes of plas­tic en­ter the seas ev­ery year.

This is alarm­ing be­cause ocean plas­tic does not biode­grade. In­stead, it breaks up into ever smaller pieces (un­til it be­comes mi­croplas­tics) and re­mains in the ocean. Not only does this mean plas­tic trash wash­ing up on our beaches. Ac­cord­ing to sci­en­tists, it cre­ates a kind of toxic plas­tic “soup” that pol­lutes the fur­thest seas, reach­ing even for­merly pris­tine ar­eas such as the Arc­tic and the mid­dle of the Pa­cific Ocean.

It en­dan­gers and kills coral reefs and wildlife, in­clud­ing seabirds and tur­tles, and trav­els up the food chain from plank­ton to hu­mans. This means that the plas­tic we throw into the ocean even­tu­ally ends up back in our bodies (when we eat seafood)!

Bor­row­ing from chil­dren

“This (plas­tic) rub­bish came in from the sea,” said Amri Azmi, the father of the four chil­dren at the beach cleanup.

A teacher and sea scout leader, he took his kids to the event to teach them about beach lit­ter and ocean health. The chil­dren were a hit with the lo­cal me­dia for their dil­li­gence in pick­ing up lit­ter for the en­tire two-hour du­ra­tion.

Con­cern for the next gen­er­a­tion is also what drives Iqbal Ab­dol­lah, the other WOD co-or­gan­is­ing chair­per­son.

In­volved in con­ser­va­tion since 1998, he stated that “nowa­days I will al­ways say that I’m just bor­row­ing na­ture from my daugh­ters. So I need to have our oceans be as clean as pos­si­ble so that my daugh­ters will be able to go div­ing or to walk along the beach hap­pily.”

Iqbal is from the Miri branch of the Malaysian Na­ture So­ci­ety (MNS), which has been in­volved in beach sur­veys for sev­eral years.

It was with MNS that another key WOD par­tic­i­pant, ge­ol­o­gist Dr Do­minique Dodge-Wan, started ex­am­in­ing beach lit­ter in Miri two years ago. An as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor at Curtin Univer­sity Sarawak, she has col­lected data from five recre­ational beaches and an­a­lysed it us­ing in­ter­na­tional guide­lines.

At the WOD sym­po­sium the day af­ter the beach cleanup, DodgeWan re­vealed that most of the lit­ter was plas­tic and that ev­ery type of plas­tic used in the Miri district was found on the beaches. The main items were small plas­tic bot­tles (less than 2 litres) and plas­tic bags.

The sym­po­sium au­di­ence was dis­mayed to learn that a sur­vey showed that in a 10m sur­vey on Ma­rina Bay where the cleanup was done, 167 bot­tles were found.

“We need to pre­vent trash in the river reach­ing the beaches,” said Dodge-Wan.

“Bet­ter still, pre­vent it reach­ing

About 300 vol­un­teers turned up at Ma­rina Bay in Miri, Sarawak, last month for the city’s largest beach cleanup. — SL WONG

Some 500kg of rub­bish was col­lected from Ma­rina Bay in Miri. — WONG WEE LIEM

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