Trawling threatens marine life


THE Covid-19 pandemic may have offered some respite to the environment, especially to tourist sites.

However, huge amounts of garbage continue to wash up on our shores. Ironically, much of it doesn’t even belong to us.

Volunteers from the 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 an increase in “ghost gear.”

The term refers to huge nets, lines, ropes, polystyrene floats and other fishing gear lost or thrown into the ocean by fishermen.

These tend to wash up on beaches, and foundation volunteers have also recovered ghost craft from the ocean floor.

Foundation clean-up efforts were carried out in Morib, Selangor; Port Dickson, Negri Sembilan as well as several rivers in the Klang Valley.

But nothing prepared them for the amount of garbage they found on the beaches and waters of Pulau Redang in Terengganu.

Two trucks loaded with abandoned fishing gear were among the rubbish collected during a massive cleanup by volunteers and Tzu Chi employees of the Taaras Beach and Spa Resort in Berjaya in Redang.

The amount collected was so heavy that an excavator had to be used to transport it and load it onto trucks.

Gear accounted for at least 40% of the waste collected in the sand and waters around the island.

“It was wreaking havoc on marine life,” said Francis Tan, recycling coordinator for the Tzu Chi Foundation in Malaysia.

“Fishing nets alone can endanger marine life, including turtles and whales. And yet, no one talks about it.

“I don’t have the numbers on the marine life that has died from the nets, but as someone who has been cleaning Malaysia’s beaches for a long time and who talks about topics such as maritime piracy and global warming, I can safely say that’s a lot! ” said Francis.

“Greenpeace has reported that fishing gear constitutes the majority of plastic pollution in the oceans.

“These nets and traps used by fishing companies are thrown overboard when they are no longer needed. “

Francis said that apart from fishing gear, some 54,960 kg of plastic waste had been collected from the beaches.

“We collected 1,832 garbage bags filled with waste.

“The truck carrying the garbage had to make 10 trips to the jetty, where the bags were loaded onto a boat to be taken to the mainland.”

The cleanup 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. Overseas waste

Interestingly, most of the waste collected and sorted by Francis and his team was not local.

“At least 50% of recyclable material, like plastic bottles, comes from China, while 10% comes 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, nets and fishing gear came from fishing boats.

“The fishermen consume all the food and water they have and throw the packaging into the sea.

“Some of these plastics are trapped in nets with marine life for days until the creatures starve or are eaten by larger fish.”

Fishing nets are made of nylon, a type of plastic.

“And like all plastic things, these don’t degrade and last for centuries, causing damage wherever they go and killing marine life for years and years to come,” Francis said.

Mostly non-recyclable

This plastic waste not only harms the environment, but also destroys the island’s coral.

Tzu Chi volunteer Michelle Low, who helped sort out the waste, said that after separating recyclables from non-recyclables, the contents of only 80 of the 1,832 bags could be recycled.

“The rest included plastic waste, polystyrene, fishing nets, ropes and containers, straws and cups.”

Low, who works at the Tzu Chi Recycling Center in Taman Desa, Kuala Lumpur, said she had never seen so much plastic waste before in one place.

“We have done similar cleanings 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 recycling awareness, there still seems to be a lot of plastic waste.

“It’s so sad to see. As volunteers there is not much we can do, ”she said.

Take the lead

Berjaya Corporation Bhd Founder and Chairman Tan Sri Vincent Tan, owner of Taaras Beach and Spa Resort, led the cleanup efforts.

He calls for concerted action to stop plastic pollution that has killed hundreds of species of marine life.

“Unless the world learns that rivers and the ocean are not their trash and starts recycling, this problem is not going to go away,” said Vincent.

“Global warming is real. Natural disasters are happening all over the world and we have to do something or it will only get worse. “

While acknowledging that most of the litter that ends up on beaches comes from rivers, Vincent said there is a need to ensure that it does not end up in the sea.

Vincent revealed that efforts to preserve the marine environment surrounding the island and the cleanups began several years ago, albeit in a low-key fashion.

“But the waste continued to grow even though there were no tourists during the movement control order.

“Garbage is pouring in from rivers and streams around the world. They end up in the ocean and the waves and currents bring it to Redang.

Vincent said cleanup and recycling efforts on the island will be carried out more regularly.

“We are building a recycling center in Redang.

“He should be ready in a few months. The goal is to recycle as much as possible in order to reduce the items that end up in landfills.

“If we can halve everything we collect at the recycling center, that would be ideal,” he said.

Vincent added that they hope to work with Kuala Terengganu City Council and other resort owners on the island to improve waste management and collection.

“Education is the key to enjoying the ocean, not only for ordinary people, but also for large fishing companies and trawler owners.

“Take it (the fishing gear) back to the mainland and have someone dispose of it in a proper and sustainable manner.”

“Don’t just throw garbage in the sea,” he urged.

Gradually eliminate harmful gear

Meanwhile, Ecotourism and Conservation Society Malaysia (Ecomy) President and CEO Andrew Sebastian said certain types of fishing nets and techniques harmful to marine life should be phased out.

“Thrown lines and nets drift towards marine protected areas and marine parks.

“These remain a threat because they are designed to last a long time without breaking down.

“I think we need to have stricter enforcement and tougher fines for fishermen, large and even small, so that they are more responsible with their equipment,” 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 in which fishermen can fish.

He also believes biodegradable fishing nets are the way to go.

“These must be used immediately. A system of discounts and incentives should also be put in place for small and large fisheries to encourage more people to make the switch, ”he concluded.


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