Keeping oceans and rivers clean

Malaysia is familiar with water pollution cases – it happens in Johor, Penang, Selangor and basically all around the country. But what are the authorities doing to solve this deep-rooted conflict?


Malaysia sits at the eighth position on the top ten ocean polluters worldwide.

Malaysians litter, overuse plastics where most of the wastes often end up in the ocean, and pollute water. All of these impact water sustainability, and with the increasing water demand, water wastage has now become one of the serious issues the country is dealing with.

But when water source is contaminated, water supply will be disrupted and this will likely interrupt Malaysians’ daily activities that majorly depend on water. Not to mention its negative impacts on the marine life deep in the ocean.

This is why an ocean and river clean-up system is needed to keep the coastal clean.

International Coastal Clean-up (ICC) Day

Reef Check Malaysia (RCM) is a non-profit organisation aims to raise awareness among the locals on the importance of, and threats to, coral reefs.

Together with Ocean Conservancy, RCM holds International Coastal Clean-up (ICC) Day each year since it was first registered in 2007.

The annual event gathers volunteers from all over Malaysia with the aim of cleaning up beaches around the country. Malaysia is listed in the top 25 participating countries.

Based on Ocean Conservancy’s 2018 ICC Report, 4,018 Malaysians participated in the event last year in 84 locations, with 7,500 kg trash collected from all beaches. Top three items found were plastics bottles, cigarette butts, and plastic bags.


Other than picking up trash along the beaches, RCM also organised underwater clean-up in Tioman island to clean the ocean from marine debris. The dive was led by RCM’s member Julian Hyde, who has made the underwater ocean clean-up his full-time job.

This year’s ICC is scheduled to be held on September 21. RCM’s efforts to keep the coastal lines clean deserves more recognition so that more people can join and contribute to the cleanliness of the ocean.

The case of Pasir Gudang pollution

One of the worst pollution cases in Malaysia is the Kim Kim River pollution back in March that witnessed 3,000 people getting treatment after being exposed to hazardous air caused by illegal chemical dumping in the river.

Public and private agencies worked around the clock to contain the chemical pollution and clean the river.

Among involved were Fire and Rescue Department HAZMAT team, the Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) Defence team set up by the Malaysian Armed Forces (MAF), and the Department of Environment (DOE). Several private agencies, medical volunteers, and appointed contractors also lent a hand.


Aside from doing decontamination and air quality monitoring, the cleaning team managed to collect 20 air, water and soil samples for real-time analysis. The whole process cost RM6.5 million.

The river was declared clean and safe by Energy, Science, Technology, Environment and Climate Change Minister Yeo Bee Yin, until the trauma of the pollution repeated last month after several school pupils experienced breathing difficulties.

Speculations arose as the government worked to find the source of the pollution and the solution. Some think that Kim Kim River was not cleaned up thoroughly, and there are people who believe that the second pollution incident is not connected to the previous one and that it is suspected to be caused by process of evaporation as a result of the hot weather and topographical conditions in Pasir Gudang.

Whatever the cause may be, it is evidence that rivers in Malaysia are critically polluted.

Rivers are much smaller and shallower compared to oceans, therefore cleaning them requires the same level of awareness but with different approach and resources.

Saving the rivers

River water in Malaysia is classified into five classes. Class 1 means the water is purely clean and drinkable, while Class 5 means the water is polluted beyond treatment.

Efforts to clean rivers have been carried out by several NGOs over the years.

For example, in April, 150 volunteers from six NGOs – Trash Hero Kuala Lumpur, Global Environment Centre (GEC), Karun Hijau, Malaysian Eco-Brickers, Friends of Klang River Basin and FoSK MV – worked together to clean up the riverbank between Mid Valley City and Apartment Abdullah Hukum in Kuala Lumpur.

The Klang River was classified as Class 3 (polluted but treatable). Reports suggest that approximately 170,000 tonnes of rubbish flowed into it each year.

The cleaning process included three major components: cleaning, beautifying and commercialising to promote tourism.

Prior to this, the same was done in Malacca River that has now become one of major tourist attractions.

But apart from this, more rivers are in dire need of saving from the likes of plastic bottles and food waste.


The joint cooperation among the NGOs in cleaning up river is proof that people should not only depend on the government in the battle against water pollution.

Take the banning plastic straws move as an example – a government’s move proved to be not working.

Since the beginning of this month, plastic straws can only be served upon requests from customers. But due to lack of awareness on the effect of plastic straws on environments, the restaurants’ employees are often scolded by the customers for not serving plastic straws. As a result, plastic straws are still being given by default.

The question should not be what the government is doing, but what we, as Malaysians who want to see clear rivers and blue oceans, can do to tackle this issue.

Keeping the waters clean is everyone’s job. Helping people breathe better with fresh, pollution-free air is also helping the marine creatures live better.

“No water, no life. No blue, no green.” — Sylvia Earle, Oceanographer

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