From: Vijay Joshi, Associated Press
Published September 19, 2005 12:00 AM

Young Malaysian Trash Pickers Make Turtle Nesting Beaches Pristine as Part of Global Cleanup

RANTAU ABANG, Malaysia — Schoolchildren and volunteers removed loads of rubbish Saturday from the nesting grounds of endangered sea turtles along eastern Malaysia's beaches as part of a global environmental cleanup that draws millions of participants annually.


"The clean up is not the answer to the whole problem but it is a very good start," said Ian Kiernan, an Australian yachtsman who started the community-based project in 1989 by cleaning up the Sydney Harbor with 40,000 volunteers.


"What is important is the behavioral change among people that it brings," said Kiernan, whose initiative to rid the Sydney harbor of mounds of underwear, plastic buckets, toothpaste tubes and even diapers became a worldwide effort.


Kiernan's U.N.-sanctioned "Clean Up The World" project works by mobilizing local people, especially children, to tidy their surroundings, usually with the help of a corporate sponsor.


On Saturday, thousands of schoolchildren in Malaysia's eastern state of Terengganu gathered soon after dawn in several coastal villages, ate breakfast in the open and marched in with plastic bags to collect garbage littering the fine yellow sandy beaches on a 10-kilometer (6-mile) stretch.


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Scurrying around in white T-shirts, they worked at a furious pace before the rising sun became unbearably hot. When they were done, the beaches looked pristine.


In two hours, piles of plastic bottles, lunch boxes and ice coolers made of plastic foam, plastic bags, gasoline cans, fishing nets, fizzy drink cans, discarded footwear and other rubbish had been piled up neatly in corners.


Organizers had invited 2,000 volunteers but 3,400 showed up, said Rantau Abang village headman Atan Mohammed Nor.


Besides Malaysia, the cleanup is conducted in more than 100 cities every year on the second-to-last weekend of September, and attracts some 35 million volunteers, according to Clean Up The World.


"I enjoyed it because we worked in a group with my school friends ... I have seen the beach when it is dirty and it was so uncomfortable to play and swim," said Awanis Izni, 11, who came with her parents to the Rantau Abang beach.


Rantau Abang is one of only six beaches in the world to be visited by the giant leatherback turtles.


Mohammed Razali bin Che Ali, a local activist, said when he first came to the area in 1975, the beach used to be filled with up to 50 nesting sea turtles. Only 33 came the whole of last year, he said.


"They would be crawling over each other but now nothing," he said.


The leatherback, as well as the Olive Ridley, the green and the hawksbill turtles found in Malaysia are listed as endangered or threatened with extinction, mostly because of poaching by fishermen in the sea.


But pollution of the sea and the beaches is also to blame, said Kiernan, pointing out that an average of 18,000 pieces of plastics litter every square kilometer (half mile) of every ocean in the world.


Most of it is dumped by ships and cruisers, and some comes from cities, flushed by rivers into the sea.


Kiernan said a smart way to clean up the beaches is to involve hotels and resorts, because cleaner sand means more tourists.


"It's a solid business reason to go green."


Source: Associated Press


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