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Releasing the superheroes in all of us

Compiled by Melvin Gumal1, Mark Liao1, Abdul Najib Azfhar Aini1, Marianne Chiam1, Joshua Pandong1, Sylvia Ng1 and Christina Yin2

Pandan Beach: 45 volunteers, 229 kg of rubbish and 52 biodegradable bags.

IN THE PAST FEW MONTHS, many have lamented that awareness and concern for the environment have slipped. Research has shown otherwise. Using Google Analytics and analysing the trends as research has shown otherwise, i.e. there is greater awareness and concern for the environment (https://esajournals. onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/ pdf/10.1002/fee.1962).

This academic exercise is most interesting especially when we also see increased participation in the Wildlife Conservation Society’s public education events, be it the most recently concluded Run for The Wild (https://www.pressreader.com/ malaysia/the-borneo-post/20181128/ 281865824528740), the conservation education workshops conducted with teachers from throughout the country, held at Swinburne University of Technology, Sarawak Campus (http://www.theborneopost. com/2018/11/06/swinburne-sarawak- partners-wcs-to-run-workshop-for- english-teachers) or the Wildlife Conservation Swinburne Sarawak English MicroFiction Challenge (http://www.theborneopost. com/2018/12/01/evelyn-alyssa- govind-win-top-awards-in-creative- writing-challenge).

Some feedback after these events include: (a) I did not realise or was not aware of the extent of the environmental issues we face and (b) now, I know how to personally help to reduce the environmental issues either by myself or with my family.

The extent to those wanting to contribute has been most encouraging. In fact, between 2017 and 2018, we saw an increase from 295 to 470 participants (60% increase) taking part in our annual Run for The Wild in Kuching and a corresponding increase from 320 to 1,765 Virtual Runners or runners participating away from Kuching (~450% increase). The increase was partially due to the teachers who participated in the workshops. Learning how they could take positive action to help the environ- ment, the teachers returned to their schools and galvanized their students to learn and care more about their environment, arranging for students and teachers alike to participate as virtual runners.  A parallel occurrence was observed as the corporate partners engaged in environmentally-friendly activities (http://www.theborneopost. com/2018/08/16/sarawak-energy- team-sets-weekend-to-help-clean- up-lundu-beachfront/) after gaining a greater understanding of how they can help with conservation.

What are the initial new tangible results of the increased participation to help conservation? According to our compilation, the output or effects of such participation are varied. For example, one beach clean-up at Pandan Beach Lundu resulted in 180kg of rubbish collected (40 bags) within a beach front of 1.5km in about 1.5 hours.  Eighty volunteers took part.  In other instances, the number of volunteers ranged from 40 to 100.

Another question to ask is: what can we do with the rubbish? Some of the waste is converted into ‘art-work’ to display the myriad plastic and polystyrene items thrown into the sea. The art is then used as an educational tool for teachers and students as well as members of the public to absorb and learn ‘what not to do’ and ‘what to do’. The ‘what to do’ ranges from reducing con- sumerism by refraining from pur- chasing items that are not needed and re-using and recycling goods to proper and appropriate disposal of plastics and purchasing natural products instead harmful pollutants such as micro-beads.

In the latest Superhero movie Aquaman, humanity is shown its polluting excesses, using the seas as a huge dumpsite for plastics as well as for toxic chemicals. Unfortunately, there are no superheroes to save our world for us. However, each one of us can and must do our part to live sustainably.  We certainly cannot proceed with consumerism and pollution unabated. We need to care and nurture our inner consciousness and release the superheroes in all of us to care for the environment.

1 – Wildlife Conservation Society, Malaysia Program
2 – Swinburne University of Technology, Sarawak Campus

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