Typhoon Kai-Tak helps clean up plastic pellets dumped by Vicente

Kai-Tak rectified some of the damage done by Vicente, by washing another wave of plastic pellets ashore

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 19 August, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 19 August, 2012, 10:12am

One brought havoc, the other was a godsend.

In an unusual twist, Typhoon Kai-Tak dumped a second wave of plastic pellets onto Hong Kong beaches, giving the army of volunteers who have toiled for weeks another opportunity to keep them from entering the food chain.

"In a way, Mother Nature has been good to us," said Gary Stokes from Sea Shepherd, one of the green groups which have been working closely with the government and mainland oil giant Sinopec - which made the pellets - on the clean-up.

About 150 tonnes of the pellets - also known as nurdles - spilled into the sea after Typhoon Vicente swept six shipping containers of them off the deck of a freighter three weeks ago.

Sinopec and the government says the pellets pose no danger, but greens say they can become coated with contaminants in the sea and that marine animals may mistake them for food.

Stokes said while it might be disheartening to see some of the beaches again covered in tiny pellets, the typhoon had helped flush out pellets trapped along rocky shores, and brought some which had washed out to sea back onto the sand, where they could be collected for disposal.

"This weekend is very critical and we are trying to keep the momentum up," he said.

The groundswell of action since the first pellets were spotted along Discovery Bay beaches after Typhoon Vicente hit on July 24 showed that Hongkongers were deeply concerned about their environment, Stokes said. Over the past three weeks, hundreds of locals have turned up in droves to spend hours patiently sifting through the sand to separate the pellets.

Keilem Ng, 31, a volunteer from green group Eco Marine, was in Chi Ma Wan near Mui Wo on Lantau Island yesterday.

"The participation by the public has been wonderful," she said, with about 300 volunteers cleaning up Lantau Island beaches yesterday.

About 350 volunteers are expected today at the same beaches.

A spokeswoman for Sinopec said the company was working with about 10 green groups and the government to clean up the mess.

"We are providing them with industrial vacuum cleaners, power generators and first-aid kits."

The company has spent the equivalent of 300 working days in manpower for the clean-up, through staff volunteers and professional cleaners.

Ten cylinders to sift the pellets from sand were sent to volunteers in Discovery Bay and on Lamma Island yesterday, with another 10 on the way, the spokeswoman said.

The government said it had collected 167.5kg of pellets by 4pm yesterday.