‘Environmental disaster’: Public outcry over rubbish washed up on Hong Kong shores in recent weeks

Over the past few weeks, citizens have raised concerns on what seem to be unusually large amounts of trash washed up on Hong Kong’s south-facing beaches, particularly on Lantau Island. The cause of the pollution is still unclear.

Cheung Sha Beach on Lantau Island. Photo: Doug Woodring via Facebook

Several Hong Kong Facebook groups, such as “Hong Kong Marine Lap Sap not Serious – says govt report“, have been flooded with reports of heaps of rubbish on various shorelines.

Iain Brymer, an avid canoer, told Coconuts HK that the pollution has “been everywhere”, noting that it seems to be concentrated in Pui O and on Cheung Sha Beach, both of which are located in the south of Lantau Island.

“I’ve been in south Lantau for 9 years and have seen rubbish in the water, but it’s never been this bad”, Brymer said, adding that more litter seems to come in with every new tide.

Witnesses have described the beach debris as consisting of various everyday items: lots of plastic bags, food packaging and flip flops.

Cheung Sha Beach on Lantau Island. Photo: Doug Woodring via Facebook

Brymer also reported that the trash is not only found on the beach shore but can be spotted 400 to 500 metres offshore and spans approximately 300 metres wide.

As of right now, the source of the rubbish is still unknown.

“The biggest issue is that people keep pointing the finger at everyone else and [the discussion] is getting nowhere,” Gary Stokes, director for southeast Asia at Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, told Coconuts HK.

Lisa Christensen, founder and CEO of Ecozine and Hong Kong Cleanup sent an email complaint to various Environment Bureau officials including Environment Secretary KS Wong and Environment Under Secretary Christine Loh.

Criticising the lack of government action over this ‘environmental disaster’, she wrote: “The vast majority of the trash is not coming from Hong Kong’s beachgoers, and shoreline recreational activities. Nor is the majority at most sites coming from China.”

“It is Hong Kong waste, and the sheer volume and diversity of the waste suggest either illegal dumping on a large scale, or an unacceptable amount of trash – much of which is highly toxic domestic waste – being mismanaged or escaping the system.”

Cheung Sha Beach on Lantau Island. Photo: Doug Woodring via Facebook

Speaking to Coconuts HK, Christensen stressed the findings of a recent study done by Professor Jenna Jambeck which revealed that China and Hong Kong pose the largest threat to the world’s marine ecosystems in terms of plastic marine debris.

The 2015 report said: “China, including Hong Kong, was ranked number one out of the 192 countries that border the ocean, in terms of mismanaged plastic generated by populations living within 50 km of the coastline.”

“It should be the government’s responsibility to effectively address major environmental concerns such as marine debris; to consider its effects on citizens’ health and safety, economy, and natural resources, and act accordingly,” argued Christensen in her letter. 

The government hasn’t issued any statements about the situation but according to Stokes, the Environmental Protection Department has set up a meeting to discuss the issue and come up with possible solutions. 

Got a tip? Send it to us at hongkong@coconuts.co.

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