Saturday, 16th September 2017
The coastal clean-up on the weekend was the first I had ever participated in. What more for an underwater one. And what an experience it was.
The BSJV (Brunei Shell Joint Ventures) group of volunteers were punctual and very enthusiastic thanks to a great team and a very supportive Managing Director. Panaga Beach is situated in the oil and gas district of Belait and fronted by the Panaga Recreational Club of Brunei Shell Petroleum so the area is not as polluted as other beaches or recreational places around the country. That meant that the volunteers probably didn’t collect as much rubbish as volunteers manning the other Brunei coastline areas but I take that as a good thing.
It would’ve been nice to have the Poni Divers crew in the water while the BSJV volunteers were cleaning up the beach, just to show a united front. Us divers didn’t get into the water until close to 10am due to logistical issues and running through a lengthy safety briefing. I really have to remind myself of Brunei time. Imagine that with the divers’ tendency to take things slower and you watch hours go on by easily. By the time we even started our safety briefing, there were no more of the corporate volunteers around, so Poni Divers were pretty much working in silo.
A part of me is very glad I got my Vitamin Sea for the weekend. Then there’s the part of me that can’t help but laugh at the absurdity of it all as there were over 10 divers getting in the water, swimming out 50m from shore and getting a maximum depth of only 2.4m (7 feet). Getting into the water was already a struggle, having to fight past the massive waves beating towards the shore. When we were finally past them, Sur just had me in giggles as she commented that the visibility was non-existent, describing the water as “teh tarek” (pulled tea) or “milo ping” (cold milo) colour after famous local beverages. Imagine for us freedivers how that meant having to extend our arms above us just to make sure that we don’t hit our heads right after duck diving into the water (I barely finned) and then having to put our faces to the sand just to see if we can find anything. It got to a point that we weren’t getting anything, not even the scuba divers, so GM of Poni Divers Thye Sing commented that we can consider it an accomplishment if we could get at least one piece of trash. Dave saved the day when he managed to pull out one small chocolate wrapper as proof of the struggle (the struggle was real, my dear friends) after 40 minutes in the water.
Finishing up took another hour of two – picture taking, clearing, showering and certificate distribution included. It must’ve been noon by the time we left Panaga. Sur, Jonie (who did the beach clean up) and I had a late lunch in town before parting ways. I was pretty much a vegetable after that.
I’m not sure what the thinking was behind doing an underwater clean up close to the beach but I feel that it would have probably been more worthwhile to go out to sea to pick-up some ghost nets, loose fishing lines and the likes. The characteristics of Brunei’s beaches are that the waves would’ve pushed the rubbish to shore or far out into the ocean already. It was a good effort by all those involved, but probably something to think about for the next cleanup activity.
I’m also curious as to what are the next strategic steps to ensure that our coastlines and waterways stay clean. I mean it’s great that this is a nationwide effort taken on by various groups and individuals but we need something more preemptive and action-oriented at the governance level, not so much reactive or celebratory. I know that rubbish pollution is a serious issue around Kg Ayer and hot spot beaches so I believe that it starts at mind set and also providing proper utilities and infrastructure for the public to put away their trash.
Just my two cents.