Diving for trash

09 June 2017 | Research
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These plastic bottles were some of the common marine debris collected during the clean-up

Researchers from the Tropical Marine Science Institute (TMSI) at NUS led a team of 20 volunteer divers in a marine clean-up and coral rescue effort at the Sisters’ Islands Marine Park on 4 June, doing their part to improve the health of the ocean ecosystem in Singapore.

The marine clean-up was organised by Our Singapore Reefs, a community initiative started by two TMSI researchers, Dr Toh Tai Chong and Ms Sam Shu Qin, and a group of divers with a love of Singapore’s coral reefs. The group hopes to raise awareness about Singapore’s marine biodiversity, as well as connect academics, businesses, non-profit organisations and government agencies to protect Singapore’s reefs.

As a marine biologist, Ms Sam spends a lot of time underwater monitoring Singapore’s reefs. She and her colleagues would encounter abandoned fish traps, ropes and other debris which damage the corals beneath it.  

“A damaged reef is a big deal. Fishes lose their homes; fishermen lose their harvest; and we lose coastal protection from wave action,” Ms Sam said. “This initiative will help us reduce marine debris and ensure environmental sustainability.”

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Participants getting ready to dive into the sea

Bright and early on Sunday morning, participants set off on a boat headed for the Sisters' Islands Marine Park. Once they were at the survey site, they dove into the ocean in search of marine trash. They worked together to fish out debris from the sea floor, and transferred them into baskets. On board the vessel, participants sorted the debris according to material type, and recorded their finds.

In just 45 minutes, the team collected 424 pieces of debris weighing over 72kg. The short dive unearthed various items such as nets, ropes, a car battery and a trolley, which offer a stark reminder of the impact of human’s consumption habits on the fragile marine ecosystem.

“We were expecting a lot of plastic bottles, containers and fishing lines to be the bulk of the marine debris. To our surprise, metal materials made up most of the marine debris we found,” said Ms Sam. She added that the team’s survey data on the marine debris collected has been shared with the international community.

A damaged reef is a big deal. Fishes lose their homes; fishermen lose their harvest; and we lose coastal protection from wave action.

A second dive saw the team rescuing 43 corals that were dislodged from the reefs or were from dying coral colonies. Participants were also taught how to prepare and secure the coral fragments on nursery frames, which were later relocated to coral trays within the marine park for propagation to help revive the coral population in Singapore’s waters.

This is the group’s first marine clean-up and they hope to do more in the future. The activity was made possible with support from partners like The Submersibles, a local dive company that assisted in dive safety and equipment handling, as well as the International SeaKeepers Society Asia, a marine conservation group.

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The participants before departing for the Sisters' Islands Marine Park