talking points for nature guides
index of concepts
Marine debris: Killer litter
updated Dec 2019
Why is there so much litter on the shore? Where does all this litter comes from? When we DON'T throw litter into a proper bin, it falls to the ground, goes into the drain, flushes into the canal, then into the sea. Most of the litter on our shores comes from landbased activities in Singapore and not necessarily from ships or boats or other countries.

Why is the litter arranged in a line on the shore? Litter that floats comes in with the tide and is deposited on the high water mark. There is usually so much litter in the water, especially near shores frequented by people, that every tide brings in a new load of trash. Heavier trash that does not float were probably dumped on the shore or nearby.

Killer Litter!
Litter in the sea isn't just unsightly. Litter kills marine life.
  • Of all the litter in the ocean, plastic litter is the most lethal. And plastic makes up nearly 90% of marine litter.
  • Small animals are smothered in plastic bags.
  • Sea turtles often eat floating plastic bags, mistaking them for jellyfishes which are among their food. Sea birds and even whales die from eating plastic bags.
  • Abandoned fishing nets kill by trapping animals. Marine animals that get entangled die a slow death. Air-breathing animals such as dugongs, dolphins and sea turtles drown if they are trapped in nets. Sea birds that fish in the ocean may also get entangled and die.
  • Plastics don't biodegrade. But they do break up into smaller and smaller pieces. These tiny pieces of microplastic are eventually eaten by small sea creatures and thus enter the food chain. Eventually on our plate through seafood. Fish meal is also fed to livestock such as pigs and cows.

Plastic everywhere: Plastic floats. In the ocean currents, plastic trash literally travels the world.

Plastics forever: Plastic litter lasts, and lasts, and lasts...
"So ubiquitous and inexpensive are plastics that we've become a single-use, throwaway society. Synthetic plastics do not biodegrade. At best, they break and break again into smaller and smaller pieces. The fact remains that, save those incinerated, every single molecule of synthetic plastic ever created is still on this planet and probably will be for centuries".
from Breaking the cycle of plastics in the ocean by Andrew Myers Ocean Conservancy Magazine Autumn 2007

How much plastic is in the ocean?
"Findings by Dr Richard Thompson at the University of Plymouth estimate there are 300,000 items of plastic per sq km of sea surface, and 100,000 per sq km of seabed. So plastic appears to be everywhere in our seas."
from Plastics 'poisoning world's seas' By Maggie Ayre Producer BBC 7 Dec 06

Aren't Singapore's beaches clean?
"On beaches across Singapore where the public has access, the NEA has about 40 cleaners removing rubbish before most beach-goers arrive. On the popular 11-km stretch of East Coast Park, about 15 of them sweep, pick up and toss out trash on any given day, starting from 7am. The volunteers (from International Coastal Cleanup Singapore) took over their job on Saturday and collected 16,819 items weighing 2,600kg at East Coast Park alone - the highest amount of trash collected on any beach open to the public." from The coast is not clear by Shobana Kesava Straits Times 20 Sep 07.

Our main beaches APPEAR clean only because of the armies of cleaners.
Daily beach cleaning at East Coast Park, Apr 08.

A beach that is not regularly cleaned.
Tanah Merah, Oct 09
Where does the trash come from?
Daily door-to-door trash collection is provided by the Maritime and Port Authority (MPA) to all ships parked in port. MPA also has several boats dedicated to removing trash from the port waters. MPA issues public data on the trash collected through the services they provide.

However, no door-to-door trash collection is provided to any of the coastal fish farms licenced by Agri-food and Veterinary Authority (AVA, now the Singapore Food Agency, SFA) (119 as at Aug 2013). By providing this service, possibly 250 tonnes of trash (or more) will no longer be dumped into our waters every year as outlined in this letter sent to REACH. Despite a meeting with AVA in Mar 2014, to date, daily door-to-door trash collection is still not provided to coastal fish farms licenced by the authorities.

Golf balls at Berlayar Creek next to
Keppel Golf Club, Mar 09
Sofa dumped probably by
nearby coastal fish farms.
Pulau Ubin, Sep 14

Plastic stuck to a sea anemone.
Kusu Island, Jul 04

You CAN make a difference

  • Throw all your rubbish in a proper bin.
  • Try to reduce the use of these things that you only use once or eventually throw away: plastics, styrofoam, plastic bags.
  • Don't use balloons at parties, especially avoid helium balloons and release of such balloons, particularly near the shores.
  • Clean up carefully when having an event near the shores.
  • Join International Coastal Cleanup Singapore. It's NOT just about removing rubbish. It is about collecting data about marine debris. The data is compiled worldwide and used to raise awareness and encourage change in consumer habits and government policy.

Photos of marine debris on Singapore shores
On wildsingapore flickr for free download

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