NParks volunteers help with oil spill cleanup efforts at Chek Jawa over the weekend

NParks volunteers help with oil spill cleanup efforts at Chek Jawa over the weekend
PHOTO: The Straits Times

SINGAPORE - Cleanup work following Tuesday's oil spill continued on Saturday (Jan 7), with National Parks Board (NParks) volunteers combing Chek Jawa to help mop up oil from the coastline.

Saturday's cleanup efforts at Chek Jawa drew fifteen volunteers, some turning up for a morning session and others for the afternoon one, while the tide was still fairly low.

There will be two more cleanup sessions on Sunday, at 9am and 1pm.

On Tuesday night, two container vessels collided off Pasir Gudang Port in Johor. This caused 300 tonnes of oil spillage after one of the vessel's bunker tanks was damaged.

On Saturday, the volunteers were given a briefing before they put on protective jumpsuits, gloves and boots, and headed down to the coastline.

Hard at work under the sun alongside 30 of NParks' contract workers, they used oil-absorbent pads to soak up oil stains from rocks and mangroves. They also removed oil-stained seaweed and sand, with the help of spades, disposing them in yellow bags for incineration.

The damage to Chek Jawa's ecosystem has so far been minimal.

NParks' group director for conservation, Mr Wong Tuan Wah, said that this was due to oil-absorbent booms were put in place soon after the spill. There are now two layers of booms protecting Chek Jawa, one of which was added on Friday. These booms absorb oil, and also serve as a physical barrier.

Still, Chek Jawa was flagged as a priority area due to its rich biodiversity.

Said Mr Wong: "The oil sheen gets into the roots of the mangrove, and affects its breathing pores."

The oil, he added, would also eventually seep into sand and mud, and affect marine creatures.

One of the volunteers on Saturday afternoon was environmental sciences student Abel Yeo, 23, a nature guide-in-training at Sungei Buloh.

Said Mr Yeo in response to the oil spill: "I always feel, if it's closer to home, it affects us more. It affects our water quality, our biodiversity, our food supply. You feel you need to do something."

Fellow volunteer Soh Lay Bee, a bank officer in her late 30s, said that after hearing news of the oil spill she felt "angry and sad".

"We are part of an environment; I am responsible for the environment. We will just do our best (to help with the clean-up)."

When The Straits Times visited the Chek Jawa coast on Saturday afternoon, there was a faint smell of petroleum in the air. Dark oil stains were visible on some mangrove roots, rocks and seagrass.

The Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore said in a statement on Friday that "good progress has been made in containing and cleaning up the oil spillage". "No new patches of oil have been spotted along East Johor Straits," it added.

This article was first published on Jan 7, 2016.
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