Trawling threat to marine life
THE Covid-19 pandemic may have provided some respite to the environment, especially tourist spots.
However, huge amounts of rubbish continue to wash up on our shores. Ironically, much of it is not even ours.
Francis pointing to the ghost gear from the waters and beaches of Redang. An excavator was needed to load the gear onto a lorry.
Volunteers from Tzu Chi Foundation, who have been involved in beach clean-up efforts for over 20 years, have not only noticed an increase in single-use plastics but also a rise in “ghost gear’’.
The term refers to huge nets, lines, ropes, polystyrene floaters and other fishing gear lost or thrown into the ocean by fishermen.
These tend to wash up on beaches and the foundation’s volunteers have also fished out ghost gear from the ocean floor.
The foundation’s clean-up efforts have been conducted in Morib, Selangor; Port Dickson, Negri Sembilan as well as at several rivers in the Klang Valley.
But nothing prepared them for the amount of rubbish they found on the beaches and waters of Pulau Redang in Terengganu.Cleaning up Redang
Two lorry loads of discarded fishing gear were part of the rubbish collected during a massive clean-up by Tzu Chi volunteers and employees from Berjaya’s The Taaras Beach and Spa Resort in Redang.
The amount collected was so heavy that an excavator had to be used to transport and load it onto lorries.
The gear made up at least 40% of the litter collected from the sand and waters around the island.
“It was wreaking havoc on marine life,’’ said Tzu Chi Foundation Malaysia recycling coordinator Francis Tan.
“The fishing nets alone can endanger marine life, including turtles and whales. And yet, no one talks about this.
“I don’t have the figures on marine life that have died because of the nets, but as someone who has been cleaning up Malaysia’s beaches for a long time and speaking on topics like sea piracy and global warming, I can safely say it’s a lot!’’ Francis said.
“Greenpeace has reported that fishing gear makes up the majority of plastic pollution in the oceans.
“These nets and traps used by fishing companies are dumped into the sea when no longer needed.’’
Francis said apart from fishing gear, some 54,960kg of plastic waste was picked up from the beaches.
“We collected 1,832 rubbish bags full of waste.
“The lorry carrying the rubbish had to make 10 trips to the jetty, where the bags were loaded onto a boat to be taken to the mainland.’’
The clean-up involved sites like Taaras beach, Teluk Kerma, Pulau Lima, Teluk Sauh, Mat Simpang, Tanjung Lang, Pasir Akar, Batu Tok Kong, Tanjong Leboh, Teluk Mat Deloh, Tanjung Gua Kawah, Batu Chak, Air Jemuruh, Teluk Siam, Teluk Tigi and Batu Berole. Waste from overseas
Interestingly, most of the waste collected and segregated by Francis and his team were not local.
“At least 50% of the recyclables, such as plastic bottles, are from China, while 10% are from Thailand, Indonesia, Cambodia and Vietnam. The rest are from Malaysia,” Francis said, adding that this was determined by inspecting the label and bottle design.
“Most of the plastic bottles and fishing nets and gear came from fishing vessels.
“The fishermen consume whatever food and water they have and throw the packaging into the sea.
“Some of these plastics get trapped in the nets along with marine life for days until the creatures die of starvation or are eaten by bigger fish.’’
The fishing nets are made of nylon which is a type of plastic.
“And like all things plastic, these don’t degrade and last for centuries, causing damage wherever it goes and killing marine life for years and years to come,’’ Francis said.
These plastic wastes not only harm the environment but also destroy coral on the island.
Tzu Chi volunteer Michelle Low, who was involved in sorting the waste, said after separating the recyclables from the non-recyclables, the contents of only 80 out of the 1,832 bags could be recycled.
“The rest comprised plastic waste, polystyrene, fishing nets, ropes and containers, straws and cups.”
Low, who works at the Tzu Chi recycling centre in Taman Desa, Kuala Lumpur, said she had never seen so much plastic waste before in one spot.
“We have carried out similar clean-ups here before but this is by far the largest amount of plastic waste collected.
“It comes from all over the world, and despite all the campaigns and awareness on recycling, there still seems to be a lot of plastic waste out there.
“It’s just so sad to see. As volunteers, we can only do so much,” she said.
Taking the lead
Berjaya Corporation Bhd founder and chairman Tan Sri Vincent Tan, who owns The Taaras Beach and Spa Resort, spearheaded the clean-up efforts.
He is calling for concerted action to stop plastic pollution which has killed hundreds of species of marine life.
“Unless the world learns that the rivers and ocean are not its rubbish bin and starts practising recycling, this problem is not going to go away,’’ Vincent said.
“Global warming is real. Natural disasters are happening everywhere in the world and we have to do something or else it will only get worse.”
While acknowledging that many of the rubbish that get washed up on the beaches are from rivers, Vincent said there was a need to ensure that they don’t end up in the sea.
Vincent revealed that efforts to preserve the marine environment surrounding the island and the clean-ups began several years ago, albeit in a low-key manner.
“But the rubbish kept growing even though there were no tourists during the movement control order.
“The waste is flowing in from rivers and streams all over the world. They end up in the ocean and the waves and currents bring it to Redang.”
Vincent said clean-ups and recycling efforts on the island would be carried out more regularly.
“We are in the process of building a recycling centre in Redang.
“It is expected to be ready in a few months. The aim is to recycle as much as we can so we can reduce items that end up in the landfill.
“If we can cut down whatever we collect by half at the recycling centre, that would be ideal,” he said.
Vincent added that they were hoping to work with Kuala Terengganu City Council and other resort owners on the island to improve rubbish management and collection.
“Education is the key to appreciating the ocean, not just for ordinary folk but also for big fishing companies and owners of fishing trawlers.
“Bring it (fishing gear) back to the mainland and get someone to dispose of it in a proper and sustainable way.
“Don’t just dump rubbish into the sea,” he urged.
Phasing out harmful gear
Meanwhile, Ecotourism and Conservation Society Malaysia (Ecomy) president and chief executive officer Andrew Sebastian said certain types of fishing nets and techniques that are harmful to marine life should be phased out.
“Discarded lines and nets drift into protected marine areas and marine parks.
“These remain a threat as they are made to last a long time without decomposing.
“I believe we have to have stronger enforcement and stiffer fines for fishermen, the big and even small-scale ones so that they will be more responsible with their gear,” he said.
Sebastian suggested that fishing should only be done in designated areas. “At the same time, protect the fish stock by closely monitoring marine protected areas and create more artificial reefs for fishermen to fish in.
He also feels that biodegradable fishing nets are the way to go.
“These should be used immediately. A rebate and incentive scheme should also be put in place for small and large fisheries to encourage more people to make the change,” he concluded.
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