Marine Plastics Pollution on Shek O Beach, Hong Kong

The sea in Hong Kong is always filthy after a typhoon. Here's a washed up nylon fishing rope covered in goose barnacles.

Typhoon Goni left our shores two days ago. The aftermath was that tons of plastic trash was scattered all over the beach in Shek O. The problem is that careless people drop trash. That trash gets washed down rivers and storm drains all over China and beyond before it joins other bits of teeming plastic garbage floating around in the world's oceans. It also frequently gets dropped off the side of boats and ships by people who don't know better.

Some of it comes from Japan.

Some of it is from Thailand.

Most of it is from mainland China.

And some of it comes from McDonald's. I'm not lovin' it. Are you?

Here's a colourful, yet nightmarish, tangle of seaweed, fishing line and synthetic fibre string. Perfect for strangling a dolphin.

Some of it will get cleaned up by contract workers being paid with my tax dollars.

Some of it may get sucked into the ‘North Pacific Gyre’. This week, a group of marine scientists from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California in San Diego departed to the ‘North Pacific Gyre’, an enormous area of the Pacific Ocean between the United States and Asia. Their aim is to study plastic debris accumulating across hundreds of miles of open sea dubbed by some as the 'trash vortex'.

A research boat carrying a team of 30 scientists, researchers, technicians and crewmembers embarked on the three-week voyage to learn how plastic trash in the ocean is affecting marine life. Project Kaisei in Hong Kong is involved. Click here to find out more, or contact Doug Woodring (doug at projectkaisei.org).

Apart from the harm to sea birds and reptiles, such as albatrosses and turtles, caused by eating bits of plastic mistaken for food that look like this:-

 and this, because it looks like squid to a sea bird:-

…the Scripps mission will try to discover if small particles of broken down plastic trash could carry other pollutants, such as agricultural pesticides, far out to sea.

They will also try to determine whether marine micro-organisms attached to the fragments of floating plastic could drift over a long period of time to distant coastlines and thus become invasive species.

The scientists will also look into the possibility that carcinogens found in plastics ingested by marine organisms can enter the food chain, thus tainting seafood, ultimately posing a threat to us humans.

But fear not. Back in Shek O, here come the Hong Kong Government contract cleaners from Lapco working for the Leisure and Cultural Services Department. My tax dollars hard at work.

It's a good thing we have these fine folk around.

We humans would wade up our waists in filth like rats given half a chance, but throw some money at the problem and it’s fixed.

Let’s be happy because our beach will be clean again, the problem is solved. Except it’s not. Our coastline is vast and stretches for thousands and thousands of miles, but Shek O beach is only 250 yards long.

These ladies do a great job.

But it's just a drop in the ocean.

A sign at the beach office warns bathers of the likelihood of pollution after a period of heavy rain like we have just had. No outrage. Just calm civil service words that effectively normalize a situation that is disgraceful, yet somehow expected by most Hong Kong people in these apocalyptic times. Kids grow up thinking it's normal. It's called shifting baselines.

And now for the glaringly obvious part; if people bothered to dispose of their trash properly would we be in the sad situation that we are in now with our dirty beaches and poisoned oceans? It's not that hard is it?

All images and text © Alex Hofford / Image Solutions Ltd. 2011 | Web design in Hong Kong by Ugli © 2011