Do your part at a beach clean-up or join a reef conservation programme!
In the large expanse of the Indian Ocean, a whale shark – the biggest fish in the sea – finds itself tangled in a loose fishing net. Not far away, an endangered sea turtle struggles in pain as a plastic straw is inadvertently lodged in its nose.
Sounds extreme, but that’s the gruesome truth.
Loggerhead Turtle trapped in an abandoned net | Photo by World Wildlife Fund (WWF)
Improper disposal of waste – plastic waste in particular – are plaguing our oceans indiscriminately.
The evidence is as clear as day. Public beaches are littered with truckloads of trash of a diverse kind: plastic bottles, polystyrene punnets, balloons, undergarments, and of late, even face masks. This is excluding the toxic waste poured in gallons by industrial factories, made worse by oil leakages from commercial and cargo ships.
Discarded face masks washed up on a beach in Hong Kong | Photo by Naomi Brannan/OceansAsia
That’s only the tip of the iceberg. The alarming rise in water temperature as a result from global warming, and unethical overfishing using harmful methods are equally severe contributors to marine damage.
It’s frightening when you think about it. The ocean covers 70% of the Earth’s surface, yet human activity has successfully reduced its health to a deplorable state.
Plastic garbage strewn along Kemana River in Sarawak | Photo by The Star
Thing is, this isn’t breaking news. Scientist and activists have been advocating for years about the impacts of an unsustainable marine ecosystem. It’s a complex topic with a clear bottom line: to save the ocean is to save ourselves.
Many are aware of the issue, not many about its consequences. Fewer so know what to do.
Well, it starts with you and that first step. Once the dust settles from lockdown, invest time into volunteering at these organizations. Lead by example. Then, let your actions ripple.
Beach and Coastal Clean-up
Volunteers of Trash Hero Malaysia at Pandak Beach, Mersing | Photo by Trash Hero Malaysia
You may have seen these yellow-clad volunteers picking off trash around your neighbourhood. On their shirt is a conspicuous ‘I’m A Trash Hero’ that more often than not earns a double-take from onlookers.
Trash Hero is a global volunteer movement on a mission for cleanliness. To date, this organization has established itself in 15 countries around Asia and Europe. In each country, a ‘chapter’ is further sub-divided according to region.
Trash Hero Malaysia volunteers clear up discarded waste during a beach clean-up | Photo by Trash Hero Malaysia
In Malaysia alone, 35 chapters have been initiated. This includes popular tourist destinations Port Dickson, Redang, Tioman, Langkawi, and Penang.
In 2019, Trash Hero Malaysia held 752 clean-ups which saw a whopping 111,030 KG’s of trash cleared from beaches, community parks, and city centres.
If you’re looking for a good place to start a volunteering habit, this is the organization you’d want to be part of.
Photo by Trash Hero Malaysia
MY Clean Beach volunteers at Pantai Blue Lagoon, Port Dickson | Photo by MY Clean Beach
If you’re looking for something on a smaller, local scale, MY Clean Beach is an option you should consider.
It hasn’t reached the international peaks of Thrash Hero just yet, but it’s a growing movement ‘teaming with passion for protecting and preserving the health of our beaches and coastal environment.’
Volunteers clean-up Pantai Kelanang in Banting | Photo by MY Clean Beach
For now, most clean-ups take place at beaches around Selangor, such as Pantai Bagan Lalang in Sepang, Pantai Kelanang in Banting, and Pantai Batu Latu in Tanjung Sepat. In the past, they have collaborated with Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, University Malaya, Segi University, and OCBC Bank to lead beach cleaning efforts.
Job done! | Photo by MY Clean Beach
Volunteers clearing up Pantai Abang Amin Sematan | Photo by Kuching Beach Cleaners
If you’re residing around Kuching, Kuching Beach Cleaners (or Persatuan Pembersih Pantai Kuching) is a modest voluntary group dedicated to cleaning beaches around this specific region.
The movement started in July 2013, and has since held 30 beach clean-ups. In the first half of 2019 itself, 2594 KG’s of trash were cleared off the beaches thanks to the hard work of 678 volunteers.
In a joint effort with Sarawak Eco-Wariors and Wildlife Conservation Society Malaysia (WCS Malaysia), Kuching Beach Cleaners has been organizing clean-ups on Saturday at least once a month, and all are welcome to join in.
Kuching Beach Cleaners, in collaboration with Hilton, cleared up Pasir Panjang Kuching | Photo by Kuching Beach Cleaners
Organizations on the lookout for potential Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) opportunities may contact them over a Sponsored clean-up event.
Kuching Beach Cleaners and volunteers from Kuching City Scout Group Rover Crew | Photo by Kuching Beach Cleaners
Marine & Reef Conservation
Volunteer from Borneo Divers and Kinabalu International School clearing up underwater waste | Photo by Reef Check Malaysia
Established in 2007, Reef Check Malaysia (RCM) focuses on programmes centred on coral reef conservation and management.
Part of their initiatives includes an EcoAction programme. This is the annual survey and data collection of coral reefs by EcoDivers – a unit of RCM divers trained specifically for conservation efforts. The EcoAction programme is vital in obtaining information that will determine the next procedures for conservation.
Reef Check Malaysia currently monitors 220 reef sites and have trained more than 900 divers.
An EcoDiver among the reefs | Photo by Reef Check Malaysia
Running alongside EcoAction is RCM’s Science programme aimed at improving understanding of coral reef sciences via reef rehabilitation initiatives and reef resilience surveys. RCM also has a Coral Bleaching Response to manage corals in the case of bleaching (when corals ‘die’ due to warm waters).
Not anyone is cut out for the job though. In order to be an EcoDiver, you are required to have solid experience in diving, after which you will have to endure an assessment test to finally be certified.
Pre-requisites and assessment criteria to be an EcoDiver | Photo by Reef Check Malaysia
If you’ve not yet achieved the required pre-requisite, you can still join Reef Check Malaysia on their beach clean-up events around Sabah!
Reef Check Malaysia at a beach clean-up at Pantai Tanjung Aru, organised by Go Green Club | Photo by Reef Check Malaysia
Dive volunteers working on a coral reef | Photo by TRACC
TRACC is a marine conservation organization based in Pom Pom Island, Sabah. Aside from conservation, TRACC also works towards community development and combating the decaying state of Sabahan oceans from unethical fish bombing practices.
Their projects include:
Scientific Research and Survey
This project aids in data collection of real time marine environment. It involves attending extensive fish and invertebrate identification workshops before you can participate in underwater excursions.
TRACC divers posing for a photo during an excursion | Photo by TRACC
As pristine as the waters in Sabah can be, the corals in certain locations are in such a destitute state that human intervention is required. With the use of artificial reefs and innovative methods, TRACC aids colonies in the regrowing process until the reefs are able to thrive again.
TRACC’s extensive experience in the region has earned them familiarity among the Bajau community inhabiting the island. As a stateless tribe, the living conditions of the community is unfortunately lacking in sustainable income. TRACC therefore strives to offer locals opportunities as a means of earning from alternative sources.
Volunteer for TRACC’s Community Outreach programme | Photo by TRACC
Turtle Identification and Conservation
This project helps to maintain the population density of Green and Hawksbill Turtles that nest on the beaches. Volunteers are required to code and identify turtles, as well as to perform island patrol duties to ensure turtle nestlings are unharmed by poachers.
All smiles for these volunteers | Photo by Fuze Ecoteers
Fuze Ecoteer is a social enterprise focusing on conservation works. Aside from individual volunteering options, the enterprise also has experience collaborating with NGO’s, school expeditions, university field trips, and corporate programmes.
With the help of volunteers in their Marine Conservation Volunteer Project, Fuze Ecoteer has been able to conduct research and data collection surveys to assess the health of seagrass beds and coral reefs in Perhentian Island.
Volunteers on beach patrol | Photo by Fuze Ecoteer
Running next to this is the Turtle Volunteer Conservation Project, where volunteers actively participate in documenting and protecting turtle eggs. With guidance from the Department of Fisheries (DOF) and Marine Parks Division, 28801 turtle eggs from 316 nests were successfully protected.
Fuze Ecoteer with participants of Change Makers Camp at Taman Negara National Park | Photo by Fuze Ecoteer
Marine pollution is not a problem we can slip under the bed. The more ignorant we are to the damage being done, the harder the consequence will affect us later on.
Remember, we are saving ourselves. The Earth will thrive without humans. Ultimately, it is us who will need to abide by the rules of nature.
Start as soon as you can, before it’s too late.