Photographer documents how we are killing our oceans

Six decades spent capturing what's beneath the waves has shown photographer how badly marine life is treated but also how beautiful it is

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 11 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 11 September, 2013, 4:54am

Sixty years of diving have shown David Hsiung Bing-kuan the most beautiful things in the ocean - and the ugliest.

In a career that has taken him across much of the South China Sea, the 73-year-old scuba diver and underwater photographer has seen and photographed stunning vistas as well as "dead zones" created by poison and dynamite used in illegal fishing.

"Fish poisoning and the use of dynamite used to be common, and they have caused the worst ecological damage to the undersea environment," Hsiung said.

The practice did not just damage the ecology, but once almost took his life when he accidentally swam into a blast zone.

"I could feel the powerful pressure and my heart felt as though it was being pulled out of my body," he said.

The worst destruction he remembers was in Hainan in the 1980s. "I had thought this was going to be a fish paradise, but it turned out the sea was dead. The only living zone was around a pier where dynamite fishing was banned as the facility was near an oil pipe," he said.

But Hsiung said the situation had improved over the years, with a blanket ban on the use of dynamite and fishing moratoriums in the summer.

"But more must be done to restore the balance," he said.

Hsiung fell in love with diving in the 1950s when he was in secondary school in Happy Valley. He joined his friends, the Liu brothers who founded Bunns Diving Equipment, for skin-diving trips.

He bought flippers from Lane Crawford for HK$28 - a handsome sum at the time - and did his first dives with friends at places like Big Wave Bay.

He joined the first Chinese diving club, the Sea Dragon Skin-diving Club, and later became an instructor.

In the years to follow, diving became his way of life, and even now, he still dons his fins every week.

Despite his love for the sea and its creatures, Hsiung also enjoys fishing. He recalls how once he could catch 50 catties (30kg) of fish off Lamma Island in an afternoon.

"This is a thing of the past, and now I enjoy the process rather than the results," he said.

But the more he saw in the sea, the more reflective he became, and he now reminds himself that there are limits.

"Take just what you need from the seas and don't abuse the lives in the ocean," he said.

He especially hates seeing divers catch even the smallest fish. "I always say, hey, the baby fish is still carrying its milk bottle. Why don't you let it have a chance to grow up," he said.

Hsiung said educating the public was key to marine conservation. "We Chinese are eating up all the fish in the oceans … I know it is hard for people to stop, but there should be some restraints," he said.

Despite being over 70, Hsiung, who went on a diving trip to the North Pole three years ago, and plans to dive for 10 more years.