Tuesday, 5 April 2016

This is your home.

Imagine a lovely house, with 10 acres of land full of fruit and vegetables all growing freely. This is your home.

One day, without warning, a group of men walk in to your home and start to take away the bricks and wood from the ground floor of your house. The next day, a group of men arrive with big nets and start to catch all your fish in the lake. The next day, a different group of men cut down your woodlands and take all your vegetables.

You are left with a wasteland. With no fish in your lake it quickly succumbs to death, with no woodland you lose the wildlife necessary to pollinate your vegetables, and the wood for your fire and fuel. Without the ground floor walls of your house, it collapses. You are left with nothing.

How would you feel? You wouldn’t accept it. You wouldn’t let these people destroy your home, brick by brick. You would resist because it is your home. Just as we don’t let people walk into our homes and take our stuff.

So why do we let our governments and corporations do it to our planet. It is exactly the same. This planet is my, your, our home. Sure, a lot of what we do is necessary, we need to be warm in winter, we need to eat and we need shelter to live in. But how far are you willing to go to achieve comfort? Are you willing to destroy your home and everything you love for it?

When you have nothing left, you have to go to the men who took everything and pay them to give you your fish back so you can eat. You buy firewood for fuel so you can stay warm and you pay them to fix your house with the materials they took from you.

Public demand drives the destruction of your planet and your home. Take a stand against it and choose to protect the foundations of life on earth.

#FreeFromPlastic #OnePlanet #OurOcean

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Microplastics: the invisible battle for ocean health

When we talk about marine debris, and in particular plastic, the first thing that comes to mind for many people, is plastic bags and bottles. We have, in our efforts to reduce plastic use, have focused a great deal on these larger, more visible items. But they are not the only, nor necessarily the biggest, threat to the marine environment when it comes to plastic. Microplastics, nearly invisible to the naked eye and estimated to number over 5 trillion pieces are now considered a major issue. Before we discuss microplastics however, let’s recap on some important facts about plastic.

  • In 2014, the amount of plastic created reached a record 314 million tons, a whopping 38% increase on the figures for 2014 (Plastic Oceans, 2015)
  • Estimations of plastic waste reaching the oceans is between 4.8 and 12.7 million metric tons annually (Shim and Thomposon 2015, Wang et al 2016)
  • Significant increases in the quantities of plastic in the North Pacific gyre and waters near the British Isles have been recorded between 1972 and 2010 (Wang et al 2016)
  • Plastic is resistant to biological degradation and instead fragments into smaller pieces, never truly disappearing (Shah et al 2008, Webb et al 2012)

Image courtesy of Flora and Fauna, 2013

Microplastics; what are they?

Any piece of plastic that measure below 5mm in size are considered a microplastic (Li et al 2015, Shim and Thomposon 2015, Wang et al 2016). They are the most common type of plastic found in the oceans (numerically), accounting for 92% of the total number of plastic particles (5.25 trillion) or 13% of the total weight (Shim and Thomposon 2015).

There are two types of microplastic; Primary and (you guessed it) Secondary. Primary microplastics (sometimes called microbeads) are those that were purposefully created by humans for a reason. Those reasons could be for your facial scrub or cleanser type things, sand-blasting equipment or shower-gel stuff. Secondary microplastics on the other hand, come into existence through the fragmentation of larger pieces of plastic (through human breakages and UV light deterioration) (Shim and Thomposon 2015, Wang et al 2016)

These tiny little pieces of plastic can make their way into our marine environment through many different ways. Secondary are commonly born in the ocean, as lost plastic waste endlessly floats in the ocean it fragments under the sun’s UV rays. Primary microplastics find their way into the ocean through long migratory journeys. Some will be a result of poorly managed waste disposal or clean ups, whilst others (the cleansers) are so small they can be washed down the plughole and slip through every type of water treatment, straight into the sea. You have undoubtedly heard the saying ‘all rivers flow to the sea’, and this is true (albeit with some rerouting), so any plastic that reaches the ocean, especially microplastics, are likely to find their way there one day.

The Big Blue

What is next for these baby microplastics as they set out to explore the massive expanse of the ocean? Will they float aimlessly for eternity, drifting wherever the currents take them? Or will they sink down to the depths and become one with the sediment? Or, maybe choose to join the food chain and find themselves eaten? There is a lot of research that discusses the behaviour of microplastics in the ocean, but simply put, they can be split into three categories; Physical, Chemical and Biological.

Physical behaviour relates to their movement in the water, this could be through migration with the currents, or accumulation in one of the massive mid-ocean gyres and even sinking and resting with the sediment at the bottom (Wang et al 2016). On its own, the physical behaviour of microplastics doesn’t really present any concerns or problems with regards to environmental or health issues. However when we couple it with chemical and biological behaviour, it is a different story.

Chemical behaviour relates, primarily, for plastic to undergo chemical changes or absorption of chemicals. As already mentioned, ‘natural’ fragmentation or degradation of plastic can happen, though slowly (even slower in the ocean). This processes, which takes place when plastic is exposed to the suns UV rays, are called ‘photo-oxidative’ and ‘thermos-oxidative’ reactions and result in the polymer (plastics) to change its properties (strength, colour and shape) (Wang et al 2016)

As plastics are broken down into smaller and smaller pieces, the available surface area for a process of absorption increases, which in turn increases the rate of absorption. Research has shown the plastics are veritable sponges when it comes to absorbing chemicals. Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) are contaminants that remain in the environment for prolonged periods and can remain a threat to humans and wildlife. Some examples of potential POPs that can be absorbed include Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs), Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs) and Dichlorodiphenylytrichloethane (DDT) (Wang et al 2016, Webb et al 2012).

  •  There are approximately 100 PAHs out there that are released from burning coal, gas, trash, tobacco, wood and other organic materials. Needless to say, some of these are anticipated to be carcinogens and have been linked to lung, liver and skin cancers (US National Library of Medicine 2015).
  • PCBs are man-made organics. They were banned in 1979, but before that were used in products of wide variety (plastics, floor finish, oil, transformers and cable insulation to name a few). During their manufactor and from poor waste management, PCBs leached into the environment and once there, they don’t break down much (persistent!). They have been shown to cause cancer as well as issues with immune, reproductive and nervous systems. So these are bad (EPA, 2013)
  • DDT is probably more commonly known and was used as a pesticide until it was banned in many countries. Whilst it hasn’t been shown to cause reproductive or birth defects in humans, tests on animals found some species were susceptible to harm. Whilst humans exposed to it have claimed nausea, confusion, headache, vomiting and fatigue all occur (National Pesticide Information Center, 1999)

The ability for plastic to absorb these harmful chemicals may at first seem like a good thing, a way to get them out of the environment. However, due to the size of the microplastics, and the ease marine species have in ingesting them (even down to plankton!) it is concerning for the health of our oceans and ourselves. Plastic has the ability to absorb and concentrate chemcials, but in our bodies they have the ability to release them and store them in our tissue and fats. If we consider bioaccumulation or biomagnification, we can understand that as we ascend the food chain, the amounts of chemicals increases (based on the number of little fish the bigger fish has to eat, it accumulates chemicals from each of them. This is one of the reasons science says to avoid eating a lot of fish (Tuna!) more than once a week. Mercury and other chemicals are found in higher and higher concentrations which can result in poor health, birth defects and cancers; both for ourselves and life in the oceans. Basically put, our use of plastic is poisoning ourselves and the oceans.

So, in conclusion, we know that macro and microplastics are commonplace in the ocean, increasing annually and migrating across huge expanses of ocean. We know that microplastics are really small and easily ingestible by even the smallest of marine life and that because of this, they are more and more commonly found within the food chain, up to the top predators. We know that microplastics can absorb harmful chemicals and metals, which they store and can then release into body tissues and fats. We know that these chemicals can accumulate within species, and magnify as they move up the trophic level (food web). We know that getting microplastics out of the ocean is a huge challenge that is almost impossible due to the size of nets we’d have to use to collect them catching literally everything.

We also know how we can change this. The choices we make on a daily basis can influence the levels of plastic reaching the oceans. Here is a small list of things you can do to make a difference:

  • Don't buy needlesslypackaged items; there is never a need for a plastic wrapped banana
  •  Always check your shower gels and facial scrubs for the ingredients; Polyethylene, Polypropylene, polyethylene terephthalate, polymethlyl methacrylate or nylon. It is all plastic!
  • Pick up plastic trash when you see it on the floor and dispose of properly
  •  Stop using ‘single-use’ plastic and start carrying reusable bags and bottles
  • Campaign to have microbeads banned in your local state (a la California)
  • Volunteer with local NGOs working against waste

Help us help you. Change the World.

The Blue Temple Team


Li J, Yang D, Li L, Jabeen K and Shi H (2015) Microplastics in commercial bivalves from China. Environmental Pollution. Elsevier Ltd 207: 190–195. Available at: http://linkinghub.elsevier.com/retrieve/pii/S0269749115300658.
Shah AA, Hasan F, Hameed A and Ahmed S (2008) Biological degradation of plastics: A comprehensive review. Biotechnology Advances 26(3): 246–265.
Shim WJ and Thomposon RC (2015) Microplastics in the Ocean. Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology. Springer US 69(3): 265–268. Available at: "http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s00244-015-0216-x.
Wang J, Tan Z, Peng J, Qiu Q and Li M (2016) The behaviors of microplastics in the marine environment. Marine Environmental Research. Elsevier Ltd 113: 7–17. Available at: http://linkinghub.elsevier.com/retrieve/pii/S0141113615300659.

Webb H, Arnott J, Crawford R and Ivanova E (2012) Plastic Degradation and Its Environmental Implications with Special Reference to Poly (ethylene terephthalate). Polymers 5(1): 1–18. Available at: http://ehis.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.unal.edu.co/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?sid=9bbfdbf9-ecd6-4a32-ba36-682939850b58@sessionmgr10&vid=13&hid=2\nhttp://www.mdpi.com/2073-4360/5/1/1/\nhttp://www.mdpi.com/2073-4360/5/1/1/pdf.

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Raising Awareness for Conservation

Unless you live in a cave, there is an excellent chance you have read the many environmental focused articles, videos and awareness campaigns that litter our media these days. I wonder how many of them you can readily recall to memory or how many of them actually influence your lifestyle.

At Blue Temple, we put a great deal of effort into our attempts to live more ‘green’, but acknowledge that it takes a lot of effort to change routine and habit and to stop and think before buying that six time packaged item because it is cheaper and easier.

Who buys individually packaged bananas when bananas are already packaged naturally?’

Our efforts and changes in lifestyle have come about as we have learned more about issues that our actions readily influence (if even on a small scale). We, unlike the majority of the population, put a lot of thought into ways we can reduce our impact, though of course, we still create waste and drive cars (and fly halfway across the world twice a year), but in areas we can make a difference, we do. This comes from our knowledge, education and our belief that our actions make a difference. These are fundamentals in behaviour.

I could sit here and quote facts to you about how the coral reefs are dying, or about how climate change is a real thing, it may get warmer, it may get colder, but we know it is changing. But these are the very things all over our media at the moment, the science is there for everyone to see. What I am not seeing, is any attempt to make people believe that our actions CAN actually make a difference, so that is what we are here to try and do today.

I think perhaps the reason making people truly believe their actions make a difference is lacking in the media is because it is so difficult to achieve. Here we will try to show you real life examples of situations where even small actions can result in negative/positive outcomes for the environment.

Sucking the Life out of the Ocean

Plastic single use straws are a source of great annoyance for us in Malaysia. Used as both a stirrer and a means to avoid touching potentially dirty glasses, almost everybody has straws in their drinks. So it is easy then, that our first encounter is related directly to straws.

One day, we were sitting at the jetty in Perhentian with some conservation focused friends, who have previously advocated against straws, and more importantly, in the proper disposal of them after use. So imagine our shock when our friends purchase drinks with straws in them, it is not hard to say ‘no straw please’.

After the drinks were finished, we all rose and left, our friends leaving their straws discarded in their empty glasses. Now, I know what you are thinking, that isn’t littering, the restaurant will clean and dispose of them properly. But will they? How do we know that the best or even correct disposal methods will be implemented? A lot of the time, we don’t. This time, we do, we have sat at the jetty and witnessed this particular restaurant throwing waste food, rubbish and empties over the edge of the jetty, directly into the sea.

Whilst our friends may, or may not have known this. Their very insistence on having a straw was their first actionable mistake, their second was then not to ensure the straw was correctly disposed of. Sure, it takes a little effort on our part to pick it up and look for a bin, but knowing provides the reason, belief we make a difference provides the effort.

Can we help you?

This story is that of positive change, where actions can make a difference. This time, it is about the behaviour of one, impacting the behaviour of others, and again was seen in Perhentian. If you are a regular follower of our blog or Facebook page, you will know that we carry out regular beach clean ups as part of our efforts to keep Perhentian clean.

This particular beach clean-up was no different to any others, we were spread out across the village beach dragging our bin bags around collecting cigarette butts, plastic straws and cups, polystyrene plates and other miscellaneous objects. Maybe halfway through the clean-up, we were approached by a small group of Malaysian students. They asked if they could help and immediately started collecting rubbish with us. They carried on until the finish, where they spoke with us about our work and who we are and even liked us on Facebook.

This story highlights the power of suggestion, showing the ability our actions have to not only help the environment directly, but to encourage and help others to do the same. 

The Plastic Bag conundrum

There are many things uncertain in life. One thing that is certain, plastic bags are horrible. Thankfully, many countries and states are starting to ban or charge for plastic bags, reducing the number of them being used.

Our final story is a simple scenario, and one I guarantee you will see in your day to day life, if only you pay attention.
One summer day, I was with some friends, we were walking through town some were ahead, some were behind me. I don’t recall where we were going, probably to the shop but the group ahead were walking along talking and laughing. One is playing ‘football’ with a plastic bag, kicking it along as he walks. All good fun if you pick it up when you finish, but the friend didn’t, he left it and walked on unperturbed. By the time I reached the bag, it had been blown by the wind to the shore and was on the verge of entering the sea.

As with the story of the straws, the friend in question has the required knowledge to understand the consequences of the plastic bag entering the sea, and knew that by leaving it on the floor it was likely to reach the sea. But for some reason, didn’t pick it up. That small action would result in another plastic bag entering the sea, and if you live in a city and are sitting there thinking that wouldn’t happen to you, watch the mockumentary below for an idea as to what happens to that plastic bag you didn’t pick up yesterday.

So there we have it, three stories that show how small actions can make a difference. If we all started to believe that our actions made a difference, and made the effort to change, we’d see a huge shift in the global environmental debate and movement. It takes a little bit of effort and thought, but if you care about your family and the future, it is not much to ask to become a little more sustainable.

This really is a case of starting small, pick up litter on your daily walks, stop buying overly packaged items, talk to your local store about offering refillable products instead of always new, always packaged, look for car sharing opportunities to work. So many things we can do to make a difference and to see the difference working.

It really is time to think global, but act local and believe that what we do can make a difference. We believe, do you?

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Evolution is the fundamental idea in all of life science

So, 2016 is just around the corner and we are now looking at the future of Blue Temple in a whole new light. After two years running voluntourism in Pulau Perhentian, we have decided to step back and make some exciting changes!

‘Sustainability through Conservation and Research’ is the new tagline for the project. The data collected over the last two years has put us in a fantastic position to drive forward and start to make a difference on the island.

We believe there is nothing quite like science driven conservation and the facts speak loudly now and our hope is that we can expand that science with new research (Human-Environment relations, Coral Nurseries, into the Jungle surveys and maybe even some Shark genetics!).

All this research will be accompanied by our new sustainable tourism approach where we will be targeting a Plastic Free island through removing one use plastic bottle consumption (refillable bottles and stations anyone?), increased awareness and tourists who care!

We know it is a long, challenging road, and not everyone will get on board. But our focus will be targeting resorts and putting up banners and posters to permanently make people think before they buy that new bottle.

Every small act can make a huge difference if done for the right people. Let’s do something special.


Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Our Story

There was a time in the not too distant past where we were different. When I say we, I mean we at Blue Temple. A time where we didn’t think twice about our food consumption, or our waste creation, and yes, that was a time of relative simplicity and free of difficult choices, temptations and general feelings of upset.

Now, our lives require a lot more effort, result in a lot of self-questioning and pressure to behave in accordance with a set of personal rules, or norms. How we got here is not an exciting story, nor is it overly exceptional or complicated, if it was, that’d make an excellent blog, but it’d also eliminate the point of it. I want people to know how easy, with a little effort, it is to make small life changes that can change the world.

I went into my education at the age of 14, knowing that Geography, and then Environmental Science were my topics of choice, where my enjoyment led and heartfelt desire to work lay. So it begs the question, why did it take me another 15 years after my initial exploration of the wonders our planet offers to come to the now very obvious conclusions we see in Blue Temple? The answer, realisation that what I do CAN make a difference, to me, to my loved ones and to my environment.

Sabina is a very different story, she was raised in an environment where little care or attention was (or still is) paid to nature or conservation. She completed school studying computers, before relocating to the UK to learn English and eventually end up as a scuba diver with a BA degree. However, throughout it all, there was no focus on the environment, no teaching or education focused towards it. Sabina came to her conclusions through a growing love and care for everything around her. It was at this point, that she started (and continues) to learn about the risks and threats.

Two very different paths, one through education, the other through love and care, the same outcome. Working to protect our planet from ourselves. We are by no means perfect, far from it, but we try, we put in the effort to reduce our waste and our impacts. “One person doesn’t make a difference” I can you hear you all thinking, and maybe, you are right. But why should that stop you?

If you, like me, had the education to understand the damage we are doing to the planet. As individuals it is our duty to change the way we approach every day. With knowledge comes a responsibility. If, like Sabina, you love something, surely you should do everything in your power to try and protect it? Whether it is the trees in your back garden, or the beach you go for evening strolls. Litter, pollution and human action threatens everything.

You might still be wondering what we do that makes a difference, and you might say what we do is pointless, too much effort or even not enough, but we each do what we can and what we hope will result in change.

  • Meat Free Mondays and Fridays

We have spoken about it before, but the production of meat puts our planet under huge pressure. Land can be used more efficiently, water more effective and waste more suitably. Reducing meat consumption helps to reduce our impact as individuals and as a nation on our agricultural land

  • No Seafood

This one arose for multiple reasons. The first, as avid scuba divers, it seemed a bit irrational and backwards to contribute to the overfishing and destruction of the environment from which we get so much enjoyment. Second, we watched the 2009 documentary ‘End of the Line’, a short film about unsustainable fishing and the impacts it is having on our oceans, as well as emphasising the methods behinds the capture of such a massive magnitude of fish globally. Finally, we are what we eat. Fish eat plastic and mercury. We want to protect ourselves from that. (Recently, fresh water fish caught in the Thames were found to have plastic in them. Is no one safe?)

  • No Use for One Use

Plastic is well known to be a problem, if you don’t know, I’d be interested to know under which rock you are currently living. Plastic doesn’t biodegrade, it slowly (I mean, real slow) breaks up into tiny little pieces and ends up in the bellies of fish, mammals and animals worldwide. www.midwayfilm.com is an excellent short of an island 2,000 miles from human settlement that has been affected by our plastic waste. We have banned ourselves from using one use plastic, that includes plastic bottles, plastic cups, polystyrene and plastic bags.

These three, amongst others, including composting, not buying unnecessarily and reducing energy use have totally shaped our lives over the last year. With thanks to Dave for pushing us through. Our routine have slowly changed and refusing plastic bags, straws and cups has become habit. We have slowly, and with much difficulty, altered our personal norms so that we work our hardest to avoid these things. Obviously, when you are handed something in a plastic bag, and it is offensive to say no, then we take it, with the sole intention of reusing and ensuring it is properly disposed of.

It has been a difficult transition, and has resulted in long walks through the village to get our bags after arriving at the shop having forgotten them, that, or carefully balancing and cramming everything bought into one bag and waddling back to the house attempting to avoid dropping things. Not to mention forgetting what day it is and hastily avoiding meat dishes!

We could have just carried on, forgot our bag? Never mind, we will just get one this time. But then any impact our efforts have on local perspective would be damaged. To the locals, a plastic bag is the norm, we are the odd ones. But they accept it and now don’t offer us plastic bags, straws or other such stuff to us. If we were to continue with bad habits, what hope could we ever have to make a difference to them? We have to be role models to those who don’t understand, and leaders to those who need it.

We tell you all this not because we want praise, we want people to know that even the smallest effort can result in a huge change. Whether you reduce your car use or meat consumption, or start buying fresh, unpackaged produce, or stop one use plastic, we can all make a difference.

The joy you feel when you look at the sky on a sunny day, or when you feel the grass beneath your bare feet in summer or the smells the ocean brings. These are what make a life worth living, and your planet worth protecting.

This is your planet. Help us protect it.

Friday, 14 August 2015

Why couldn’t the Clownfish buy a house?

 Because he didn’t have anemone!


As part of our work in Perhentian, we have started to try and document and identify as many different species as we can, and we thought we’d start you all off with a volunteer favourite, Nemo!

You may or may not know that Nemo is a False Clown Fish (Amphiprion ocellaris), not your typical Clown Fish (Amphiprion percula). You may also be interested to know that Nemo and his ‘false clown fish’ daddy are just one of at least 20 different Anemonefish species. Because people love Anemonefish, and commonly mistake them all as Nemo or Clownfish, we thought we’d provide you a simple breakdown and summary of the different varieties we get here in Perhentian.

Anemonefish live in symbiosis with their anemones, that is, both the anemone and the fish give and receive something necessary to survive! The anemone protects the clownfish from potential predators and are provided a food source (algae and other creatures caught stung by anemone), whilst the clownfish has been suggested to do a wiggle dance that increases the oxygen flow through the anemone for a healthier lifestyle!


False Clown Fish (Amphiprion ocellaris)

The False Clown fish is orange, with three white bars and grow up to about 9cm. When they initially hatch they hang out near the surface, but quickly descend in search of an anemone in which to live. They are territorial and aggressive about it, and very protective of their domain and family, swimming out of the anemone to bite and harass would be attackers (even innocent by-standing divers just admiring their beauty!

Clark’s Anemone Fish (Amphriprion clarkii)

Clark’s Anemone fish are black to entirely orange with a pair of white or pale bluish bars. The tail is white or ellow with an abrupt boundary. Can grow to 12cm. Is omnivorous and will feed on zooplankton as well as algae. Helps to defend the anemone from would be attackers, such at Butterfly fish which may attempt to eat tentacles of anemone.

Pink Anemone Fish (Amphiprion perideraion)

The Pink Anemone fish is a common one in Perhentian, and found at most dive or snorkel sites. It is pink to orange with a narrow white head bar and a white dorsal stripe between the eyes going along the back. Commonly found with the Magnificent Anemone up to 20m depth. They can grow up to 10cm. As with other Anemone fish species, omnivorous species that feeds on both algae and zooplankton. Unlike the first two species mentioned, the Pink Anemone fish is much shier and hides within their anemone when divers approach. 

Red and Black Anemone Fish (Amphiprion polymnus)

The unique and excitingly named Red and Black Anemone fish is unsurprisingly reddish orange with varying amounts of black on the sides, and a white to pale bluish bar on the head, just being the eyes. Juveniles have 2-3 whitish blue bars. This one is sometimes called the Cinnamon clown fish and similar to the False Clown and Clark’s, can be aggressive towards invasive peoples. Only found in three anemone types; Bubble Tip, Leathery and Magnificent.

Saddleback Anemone Fish (Amphiprion polymnus)

Probably my favourite of the Perhentian Anemone fish, the Saddleback has varying amounts of black to dark brown and yellow-orange, with a white head bar and broad oft forward slanting mid-body bar. Usually found with Haddon’s Anemone on sandy bottoms. The first sighting was at Police Wreck, sitting off the wreck in the sand at about 21m depth, since then we have found a few locations around the islands. Their defence mechanism appears to be less aggressive than other species, they dance around in the water like madmen to distract you from the anemone (and baby fish). Crafty diversion strategy.

Tomato Anemone Fish (Amphiprion frenatus)

The aptly named Tomato Anemone fish tastes exactly like a tomato, or maybe just looks like one. Males are orange to red with a single white or pale bluish head bar, the males are considerably smaller than the females at only 6cm. Females grow to 14cm and are primarily black on the sides with a red snout breast and belly. Typically live with Bulb-tentacle anemone up to depths of 12m. They lay their eggs on a flat surface and both tend to them until they hatch (6-11 days).

Hopefully you have been inspired to further research fish and join us in Perhentian for some fun identification and diving times! Get in touch for more information!