Pearl Briefing

Excess levels of wastewater spews into sea from outlets in Guangdong

Industrial and urban waste water released into sea, often in amounts in excess of set limits

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 14 June, 2014, 4:06am
UPDATED : Saturday, 14 June, 2014, 4:06am

The quality of water along Guangdong's coastline has continued to deteriorate at an alarming rate over the past year, according to a recent annual report.

The report by the Guangdong provincial administration of ocean and fisheries found 10.3 per cent of coastal areas had water quality last year that was "worse than severely polluted", up from 6.5 per cent in 2012. Areas with "relatively good water quality" fell 7.1 percentage points to 79 per cent, it said.

About a third of 82 outlets that release industrial and urban wastewater into the sea violated national limits, it said. In detailing industrial discharges, the report found 19.48 tonnes of hydrocarbons, some of which are toxic or carcinogenic, 1.09 tonnes of heavy metals and 255.45 tonnes of phosphorus pollutants were pumped into the ocean through 47 industrial outlets.

Lu Chaohua, a Guangdong marine environment official, told the official Nanfang Daily that the Pearl River Delta's dense population and heavy reliance on industry were significant factors contributing to environmental degradation. But Lu said natural disasters like typhoons and storm surges had worsened the problem.

"Last year, the frequent occurrence of typhoons brought more torrential rains … As a result, more pollutants on land were flushed into the rivers and ended up in the sea," Lu said.

He argued that most industrial wastewater outlets were operating within their limits, but about 60 per cent of urban outlets were discharging amounts in excess of what is permitted. That meant "more pollutants were washed into the sea through urban drainage systems".

As officials continue to shift blame, Guangdong barrels towards a future defined by the double threat of pollution and extreme weather events, which are the result of global climate change.

Marine-related disasters caused 7.44 billion yuan (HK$9.38 billion) in economic losses in the province last year, dwarfing 2012's estimate of 1.75 billion yuan.

This should be a wake-up call for a province that hopes to make marine industries a driver of future economic growth. In 2011, Guangdong unveiled plans to boost coastal fisheries, marine biotechnology and ecotourism on islands.

But the plans will falter if coastal marine health continues to deteriorate and climate change goes unchecked.

The report is a stark reminder that Guangdong must steadfastly protect its marine environment.