The Perhentian Marine Research Station: Starting a Plastic-Free Movement on a Remote Island

Matt Bassett

The fight against plastic sometimes feels like a losing battle as it is nearly impossible to go anywhere in the world without finding some traces of plastic!  In this battle, one of the most difficult things is trying to convince businesses and others to follow an eco-friendlier path; overdo it and you can end up annoying people and do more harm than good.

When trying to change the mind-set of business owners, their first priority will usually be making money. Therefore, going around and telling various stakeholders "plastic straws and cups are bad, please don't use them" just doesn't work.

Perhentian’s coral reefs. Photo: Matt Bassett

Perhentian’s coral reefs. Photo: Matt Bassett

Considered as a hidden gem, the Perhentian islands located in Malaysia are home to healthy reefs dived daily by the many dive shops on the island.  Even though the island seems pristine, plastic pollution is becoming a serious problem with over 146,484 pieces of plastic found in the surrounding waters.

Perhentian’s plastic problem. Photo: Matt Bassett

Perhentian’s plastic problem. Photo: Matt Bassett

The island has developed quickly as a tourist destination but has yet to develop a sufficient recycling scheme.  Adding to the problem is the difficulty of being eco-friendly whilst visiting the island, and the lack of a real incentive for businesses to be eco-friendly. The Perhentian Marine Research Station recognised this problem and decided to make a change by starting a Plastic-Free Movement.

Perhentian’s plastic problem. Photo: Matt Bassett

Perhentian’s plastic problem. Photo: Matt Bassett

The Plastic-Free Perhentian initiative was created as a way to start changing two of the main issues on the island:

  1. Creating an eco-friendly way to visit the island,

  2. Developing an incentive for local businesses.

The idea around the initiative was keep it simple, something that was easily repeatable and that anyone could do; it doesn’t take a lot of money, all it takes is time and commitment.

The initiative involved creating a map for tourists showing where to find water refill stations, where to buy eco-goods such as reusable water bottles, metal straws and where to find eco-friendly bars.

It was sold to businesses as an island-wide movement that would benefit the whole island, with little or no cost to them.

The five simple eco-friendly practices businesses could sign up to involved:

  1. Offering free bottle refills

  2. Offering bottle refills for a small fee (had to be lower than the price of a bottle of water)

  3. Selling reusable water bottles/metal straws etc.

  4. Having public recycling bins

  5. Being an eco-friendly bar/restaurant (no plastic straws/cups)


Once a business signed up to one or more practices, their business was added to the Plastic-Free Perhentian map which is regularly updated on the PMRS website. Once completed, the map was printed out and put around the island so tourists could see which businesses were on board with reducing their waste. A win-win for everyone!


Since starting the initiative in March 2018, 31 businesses on the island have signed up and it’s still growing.

Photo: Perhentian Marine Research. To see the updated map visit:

Photo: Perhentian Marine Research. To see the updated map visit:

Want to know more about The Perhentian Marine Research Station check out their website.

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