What can shore lovers do about the oil spill in Singapore?

Just as the Gulf Coast of Mexico, off the coast of Louisiana, USA is grappling with a major oil spill from the BP operated offshore rig, the hard reality of an
oil spill hit home in Singapore. Two oil tankers collided to spill 2,500 metric tons of crude oil in the Singapore Strait, 13 kms off the eastern coast of Changi, Singapore on 25th May, 2010.

Ria Tan, who has been writing about marine biodiversity in Singapore for many years, shares her thoughts and  feelings here about this terrible oil spill reaching Chek Jawa, a marine reserve and wetland on the offshore Singapore island of Pulau Ubin.  The mudflats of Pulau Ubin have several different ecosystems, and plants and animal species that are no longer found in mainland Singapore. Despite this, Ria offers a message of hope, and that each one of us can help in some way.

Oil spill reaches Chek Jawa, Pulau Ubin, Singapore  Photo: Hang Chong

Oil spill reaches Chek Jawa, Pulau Ubin, Singapore Photo: Hang Chong

A sense of deep helpless outrage is what I feel as the oil spill affects the marinelife on our shores. I just heard that the spill has hit Chek Jawa as well as Changi beach between Carpark 6 and Carpark 7.

It’s impossible to save all the creatures. What should a shore lover do about the situation?

It is wonderful to see large numbers of volunteers wanting to do something about the situation.

Hermit Crab mired in oil   Photo: Ria Tan

Hermit Crab mired in oil Photo: Ria Tan

But ‘cleaning’ sea creatures is almost impossible to do without stressing them. And once the oil clogs gills, the animals are probably doomed even if the oil is cleaned off externally. And if we want to ‘clean’ marine life, we need to use seawater. Freshwater kills marine life, in fact the mass deaths at Chek Jawa in 2007 was probably due to high freshwater input due to long and heavy rains in Johor.

The most beautiful and delicate of marine creatures are impossible to wash or relocate quickly: hard corals, sea anemones, sea fans. Some animals that don’t seem worthy of ‘saving’ such as worms, are actually among the important elements of the shore ecosystem, forming the base of the food chain. 


Peanut worms writhing or laying still on the sand  Photo: Ria Tan

Peanut worms writhing or dead on the sand Photo: Ria Tan


So what is a shore lover to do?

In my opinion, we should document as much as we can. Focusing not just on the distress and death to marine life, but also the amazing diversity life on our shores (from worms to fishes, corals to seagrass) and how the spill is affecting them.

Share the photos and observations as widely as possible, and quickly.

In this way, perhaps more people will realise the following:

  • That we do have wonderful marine life, even in unlikely places such as reclaimed shores and man-made seawalls.
  • That these shores are precious and we should care for them.
  • While we may be helpless in the face of the oil spill, there are MANY other threats to our shores that we CAN manage. We need to control such threats to make sure our shores are in the best of health, so that they can better survive incidents such as the oil spills.
  • Existing threats include: litter than poison and kill our marine life. Abandoned driftnets and fish traps that perpetually kill until they are removed from the shore. Sedimentation that affects water quality and thus the health of our marine animals. Thoughtless construction and works on our shores. Uncontrolled collection of marine life on our shores. Careless recreational use of our shores. More about threats to our marine life.

Ria Tan Our shores in Danger

Hopefully also, more people will realise:

  • We need to protect more shores so that if some shores are hurt, other shores can act as a source of new animals which can settle on and eventually restore the damaged shores.
  • We need to learn more about our shores. The more we know, the better we can care for them.

What other ways can we help?

National Parks Board staff and volunteers clean up

National Parks Board staff and volunteers clean up Photo: Hang Chong

Besides documenting and sharing your photos and stories of the impact of the oil spill, I feel we can help by going down to sites that may be but are not yet affected. Keep an eye out for first signs of oil or distressed marine life. Alert the authorities if you do spot oil.

From NEA media release, 26 May, also on wildsingapore news:

Members of the public … can contact our 24-hour call centre at 1800-CALL NEA (2255632) , email: Contact_NEA@nea.gov.sg


I’m rather concussed from predawn low tide trips, so I’m not very eloquent in this post.

If you have other and better ideas about how we can make a long term difference for our shores and make the best of out this situation, please do leave a comment.

Thank you!

The Animals Concerns Research and Education Society(ACRES) is appealing for volunteers to help them.  Those interested can call the ACRES hotline at 9783-7782.  Volunteers are to bring containers to place the animals, trash bags and to wear boots.

Further links you may be interested in:

Latest information on the spill being posted on the Facebook Page : Singapore Changi East Oil Spill (25 May 2010)

Crude realities: Oil spill victims of Tanah Merah   Ria Tan shows photographs of the affected marine life at Tanah Merah, Changi.

Oil spill on Chek Jawa. What’s the impact?

While the scale of the pollution was ‘minor’, he (Prof. Ng, Director, Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research) cautioned that any amount could upset the fragile ecosystem in Chek Jawa.

With most of the oil patches along the wetlands cleaned up yesterday evening, he said the next step will be to monitor the long- term effects of the pollution. As this is the first major pollution in the area, it is unclear how the ecosystem there will react.

What is being done about the oil spill: 29th May

At East Coast Park, the oil-slicked sand had been largely cleared from the 7.2km of shoreline covered earlier this week. The 19.6 tonnes of contaminated sand that was shovelled up was sent to the Semakau landfill site.
Beyond the conventional methods, MPA experimented with imbiber beads which are usually used by the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) to clean up chemical spills on land. Imbiber beads are spherical plastic particles that absorb organic liquids. MPA said results have been encouraging and with support from SCDF, it is deploying more imbiber beads to supplement other efforts.

What is being done about the oil spill: 28th May

“The oil slick has hit Chek Jawa today at about 2pm, and Changi Beach between car parks 6 and 7. Some 700 metres are affected.

Oil has also hit Johor shores. A 1,600-metre long and 960-metre wide slick, was also 960 metres off Tanjung Ayam in Pengerang, Johor yesterday. By today, some of the oil that had turned into tar balls has also reached the shores of Tanjung Ayam and has spread further to Teluk Ramunia.”

What is being done about the oil spill: 27th May

Out at sea, efforts were ramped up to clean up the initial 4 sq km area of oil slick from spreading inland. As part of the containment efforts, some 19 craft and 120 personnel used bio-degradable dispersants to break up the oil slick into smaller globules and some 3,300 metres of containment booms used to contain the spill.”

What is being done about the oil spill: 25th May

“The MT Bunga Kelana 3 spilled 2,500 metric tons of crude oil after a collision with the bulk carrier MV Waily at 6:03 a.m. today in the Singapore Strait, 13 kilometers southeast of Changi East, the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore said in a statement. That’s equivalent to three days of leakage from BP Plc’s damaged well in the Gulf of Mexico.”


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Posted by on May 29 2010. Filed under Biodiversity & Ecosystems, S.E.Asia/Australasia, Singapore. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

1 Comment for “What can shore lovers do about the oil spill in Singapore?”

  1. Good initiative. Site linked :)

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