On the 16th of February late in the afternoon, large balls of crude oil could be seen rolling in on the waves. Solidified oil washed up on Mentawak beach through the night but the full extent of this environmental catastrophe was only visible the following morning. Mentawak beach in Juara Bay was hit hardest. This beautiful beach is used by local families, tourists and is one of the last known refuges for our nesting Green and Hawksbill turtles on Tioman.
Resort owners along the beach were out in full force. JTP and Little Planet assembled staff, volunteers and locals who were all eager to help keep our beaches safe and clean! Alvin from Reef Check was contacted and he immediately alerted the Marine Park officials and Tekek Town Council. Help was on the way!
The clean up team spent a grueling day in 40 degree heat moving the oil by hand into big piles which we transferred to wheelbarrows and dragged through the thick sand to relocate near the road. Juara Lagoon Resort unfortunately received the bulk of oil. Little Planet staff played a major role in the days to come, toiling through the next week collecting and moving the oil. From this area alone 700 cement bags were filled each weighing around 50kg!
We were left with a big question…..what do we do with the oil?!
The solution came from Juara Headman, Razib. Thanks to Razib working closely with the authorities and for organising a JCB to move all 700 bags to a pontoon boat. On the 11th March the oil was taken to the mainland to be disposed of by the Malaysian Government.
This is not the end of the story, this catastrophe highlights a need for deeper understanding of oil spill mechanics. Where did this crude oil come from? And how much still remains in the sea? There was no news of sunken liners or accidents so we can only assume it was irresponsible dumping. Industrial liners run on crude oil and sadly the leftover poor quality oil that resides in the bottom just gets dumped overboard causing havoc to local marine ecosystems. Will we ever know which liner was responsible? Or will justice ever be sought. Unfortunately it is unlikely.
Our hope here at Juara Turtle Project – with the support and companionship of the local community, local authorities and resort owners – is to have an oil spill initiative where there is a response team set up with all the resources required to clean up and dispose of waste. Support is needed from relevant government officials. Oil needs to be removed in days, not weeks. We need to put an end to irresponsible oil dumping. This is the very least we can do for the beautiful planet we live on. We live in hope that one day we as a species can learn to respect our home without destroying it.