Hong Kong Faces Marine Crisis as Coastline Is Inundated by Massive Amount of Plastic Waste

A torrent of plastic and solid waste has turned the city's coastal waters into a virtual cesspool.

plastic trash in Hong Kong waters
Photo Credit: via Ocean Recovery Alliance

Hong Kong has recently been marred by a torrent of plastic and solid waste that turned the coastal waters into a virtual cesspool, with beaches caked in layers of trash, sadly, seemingly going unnoticed by many beach goers and overwhelming for the weekend government clean-up teams.

The vast majority of this trash is not coming from Hong Kong's beachgoers, themselves, as the waste is mainly household, medical and commercial waste.

Judging from the color of some of the bags and material, it appears that the trash has been in the water for many days.

It is possible that the waste comes from both regional sources, and also some of the legal waste transfer stations which are poorly designed for containment, the heavy summer rains, and the amount of trash that Hong Kong creates on a per capita basis, which is one of the highest in the world.

Plastic trash has clogged the coastal areas around Hong Kong (image: Ocean Recovery Alliance)

Social media dialogue has suggested that the Hong Kong government should take emergency cleanup actions, similar to that in the case of an oil spill with booms, nets and recovery vessels, as in fact, much of this material is petroleum derived plastic.

It should also undertake urgent and broad investigations as to where this volume of trash is coming from, be that from Hong Kong itself, or from neighboring sources.

The trash event, which is impacting much of Hong Kong waters, is unifying the community and local NGO groups, as disturbing images are being shared around the world, with many in disbelief that a developed city like Hong Kong could be hit with such an inundation of marine litter. 

Long term residents claim that this is the worst they have seen the waters and beaches in the past two decades.

Screenshot of Global Alert app, which allow people to see the state of plastic marine trash in their location. (image: Ocean Recovery Alliance)

“I grew up in Hong Kong and we swam at Deep Water Bay and Repulse Bay almost every weekend during the summer," said Nick Shearman and long-term resident. "No one talked about rubbish on the beach, and no one talked about clean-ups, or certainly not the need to volunteer on a weekend to pick up other people’s trash. This summer Hong Kong has seen the worse trash impact in the water that we can remember."

Marine litter impacts the health and wellbeing of the community, as well as negatively affecting the many water-based recreational activities in the territory. The trash build-up conveys a negative the image of the city, while creating untold implications on the ecosystem and seafood culture that Hong Kong is known for.

Currently, public beaches are cleaned by government departments, but they are not set up to handle the volumes of waste which are now circulating in the waters offshore, and therefore directly impacting the swimming areas for tourists and the community.

There are additionally hundreds of kilometers rocky shorelines, mangroves and beaches which are now choking in trash, which are not cleaned up by the government.


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Doug Woodring is the co-founder of the Ocean Recovery Alliance. Doug co-founded Project Kaisei, which led a science expedition to the North Pacific Gyre with Scripps Oceanography in 2009, and was recognized as a U.N. Climate Hero and a Google Earth Hero for its efforts.