The 19th and 20th of September was B&J Diving Centre's annual Project AWARE International Clean Up Event.
This year was a huge success and we would like to thank all of our volunteers and staff for their hard work and passion. A special thanks to our sponsor who made this event accessible to all, plus Reef Check Malaysia, Cintai Tioman and D2W for the biodegradable rubbish bags.
On Saturday, it was an early start for some, as the crazy ferry schedule meant travel began in good time to make the 4.30am ferry from Mersing to Tioman. Once fed, watered and checked in the teams assembled for their introduction and orientation. This year, two dedicated teams tackled Tioman's most urgent problems: Marine Debris and Crown of Thorns Starfish.
The Dive Against Debris team took their Distinctive Specialty Course with Branch Manager and Project AWARE Hero Nic. She introduced them to the messy problem of debris in an informative presentation.
It's estimated that over 6 million tonnes of debris ends up in our oceans every year. Where does it come from?.... humans! As our population increases, so does our waste. Until our attitude towards the problem changes and until we reduce, reuse and recycle, our oceans are going to pay the price. Most people don't venture under the waves. They throw trash into the water and don't think twice about the consequences. 75% of debris sinks to the ocean floor, so for them it's an "out of sight, out of mind" mentality. It's only divers who have the skills to drop beneath the surface, it's only divers that see the true impact of this discarded rubbish, and it's only divers who have the ability to remove the trash that our fellow humans so inconsiderately put there in the first place.
85% of all marine debris is plastic which poses a huge threat to our marine environment for three reasons:
- Animals mistake it for food - a survey of fulmar seabirds found dead on beaches showed that 95% of them had plastic in their stomachs (on average 35 pieces per bird). This filled them up until they didn't have the urge to eat any more and eventually they died of starvation. Closer to home, our beloved sea turtles love to snack on jelly fish. Unfortunately, floating plastic bags are easily mistaken for jellies and when eaten by turtles it can lead to suffocation and starvation.
- Animals become entangled - We've all seen the pictures that have gone viral on social media - most recently the turtle that had the drinking straw removed from it's nose. Last year in Malaysia, there were 3 dolphins found dead in our water, two of them died because they were entangled in fishing line and rope. Nets and fishing line are also a threat to our reefs. When ghost nets drift onto our corals they smother and cut into the delicate structures.
- Plastic doesn't decay - it just breaks down in to smaller and smaller pieces. This enters the food chain, and as one of human's favourite food is fish - it's going to end up in our digestive systems too.
The Crown of Thorns team was led by Dive Ops Manager and COT expert James. He gave the team a thorough briefing explaining why COTs are such a threat to Tioman's reefs and covered operation of the injection guns and safety concerns.
COTs are healthy in small numbers, we can compare their impact to a forest fire on land. They clear the way for new life to grow. However, because humans have devastated the numbers of the COT's natural predator the Triton Snail for it's beautiful shell, numbers of COTs have risen beyond the reefs capacity to cope. When there are so many COTs eating away the coral in one area, the reef can't recover and the coral will die.
We use a dry acid solution (sodium bisulphate) to inject the COTs. This kills them instantly and allows the nutrients to filter back into the ecosystem. The acid is completely harmless to other creatures and coral on the reef, and as it's so easy to make it's the perfect solution to manage our problem here in Tioman.
After lunch it was time to head out and put our plans into action. The COT team headed to Chebeh Island, an area that we know in the past has been under pressure from COTs. The team injected 12 COTs in the shallow staghorn area at the south of the island. While this number is still too high for that area, we've seen a big improvement over the last couple of years. If we can continue our good work at this dive site then we should get this problem under control and take the threat of destruction away from the corals.
Meanwhile the Dive Against Debris team were carrying out their first survey dive at Mangrove Bay. You may remember that we visited this site as part of the DAD surveys with Team Labyrinth in June. This area is under threat from debris mainly due to the fishing boats that shelter in the bay's calm waters. Whatever litter or waste is created by these fisherman is tossed over board.
In just 50 minutes the team of 10 people removed 33kg of trash from the reef. As expected, it was mainly rubbish that we would find from the fishing boats. For example, the team collected 17 tin cans (mainly F&N condensed creamer used for making coffee), 13 tea bags, 16 food wrappers, 6 glass bottles plus lots of fishing net.
During our last visit to the mangroves with Team Labyrinth, our eyes were opened to the huge problem in the tree roots. We decided to take the whole team back there during this event to try and remove even more rope and rubbish.
The team waded into the shallow waters at the mangrove. Once again we were shocked at the situation there. Huge amounts of rope are tangled in the root systems, it's very difficult to cut through or untangle it. We also found other debris like fluorescent light tubes, plastic jerry cans, mooring line floats, clothing and even a hard hat!
It's truly impossible for us to weigh the amount of debris we removed, but in only an hour 20 volunteers filled the back of our speedboat!
We then transferred our bounty back to Tekek. The river slip way is the destination for all waste from the island. It is stored here before being picked up by bin lorries and transferred to the incinerator. It was low tide and our skillful boat captains certainly had a job negotiating the shallow river bed. Plus the slip way really lived up to it's name. Our volunteers were slipping and sliding all over the place. After a lot of perseverance and a few cuts and scrapes we finally got all the trash to the top. We placed the smaller pieces of rope and rubbish into the biodegradable bags kindly donated to us by Reef Check Malaysia and D2W.
After all the excitement, the COT team headed to Renggis. Historically one of the most problematic sites in Tioman. The team injected 14 COTs - again proving the impact of sustained hard work in fighting the problem. We've seen in the past numbers reaching 100 injections per dive!
The Debris team headed back to base to weigh, sort, record and report their data. This is the smelliest part of the job, but it's so important to record this data so it can be used as evidence to implement changes.
The debris is sorted into categories, and the numbers of each item recorded. This information is then uploaded to the Project AWARE website. All the surveys completed this weekend and during past events plus all of the good work going on around the world can be viewed on the Dive Against Debris Map.
In the evening, Alvin and Sue from Reef Check Malaysia kindly came over to give our volunteers and crew a fantastic presentation on Coral Reefs. We learned about what coral actually is and the threats facing our reefs. We were also reminded once again how we can reduce our impact and save the reefs - building on what we had learned during the day.
It was then time for our BBQ and drinks - a time to reward ourselves for all our hard work.
The next day we met at the dive centre early. We needed to try and squeeze in 2 dives before the ferry arrived!
The Debris team headed straight to Salang Jetty - one of our regular clean up locations due to inconsiderate tourists and locals dumping their waste into the water. We know through past experience there is a huge issue with fishing at this jetty. Even though we are in a marine park, no one stops the illegal fishing from the jetty that happens every day. Even when we arrived there were four people fishing, and a couple feeding the fish with bread - another harmful activity as it disrupts the fishes normal eating habits and causes a knock on effect to the reef.
We dropped down under the busy jetty and it was no surprise what we found - all the usual suspect including 11 aluminium cans, 5 plastic bottles, rope and strapping from packaging, and so much fishing line choking the corals. We even found a sea cucumber that was tangled in fishing line. We collected a whopping 118 fishing hooks and sinkers highlighting just how huge this problem actually is. A total of 12kg of debris was hauled out by our volunteers.
The COT team visited Last Frontier - a site that we have noticed becoming over run with COTs in the last few months. We were right to be worried - the team injected 51 starfish and we plan to follow up again on this in the next few weeks. With this many COTs in the area our corals are surely at risk.
Our final dive brought both teams together to dive at Soyak. Nic and a previous Dive Against Debris student visited Soyak a few weeks ago and saw there was a problem with mooring lines popping up on random pieces of coral tied their by inconsiderate snorkel operators. The Debris team collected only a few bits of rope and bottles, plus a diaper (gross) - a total of 1.5kg. The COT team injected 16 starfish and we are worried that numbers might be creeping up at this site.
As usual with these kind of events, good byes were brief as volunteers rushed to the ferries. Thank you to everyone who helped during International Clean Up Weekend, without our dedicated volunteers we would never be able to make impact that we do towards improving our marine environment.