Hong Kong environmentalists go the extra tile to keep the sea clean

Mini artworks intended to make people think twice before throwing litter into gutters that lead to the ocean

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 13 August, 2016, 9:00pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 13 August, 2016, 11:43pm

The city’s litter bugs were put on notice on Saturday, starting with the south side of Hong Kong Island, where environmental activists and artists adorned pavements with colourful tiles reminding people not to dump their rubbish in drains.

They installed more than 100 ornate tiles at drain openings across Aberdeen, Ap Lei Chau and Stanley in a bid to discourage Hongkongers from throwing litter down gutters that lead straight to the sea.

Collaborating with seven artists, environmentalists at local initiative Ocean Recovery Alliance plan to place thousands of the tiles at gutters across the city in a unique awareness-raising project bringing together environmentalism and art.

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“As a port city, the ocean is Hong Kong’s best natural asset but we’ve been neglecting it,” said Doug Woodring, the alliance’s Californian co-founder, who came to the city 20 years ago.

“Pollution from the streets is a big factor in the poor coastal water quality,” he said, describing how people dump cigarette butts, oil and paint down Hong Kong’s rain water drainage system without realising where it goes.

An estimated 80 per cent of the rubbish polluting the ocean comes from land, according to the UN Environment Programme, with much of it getting washed into the sea through drains and sewage systems.

Woodring said he hopes his “Grate Art” project will help clean up a coastline mired in debris and junk. The state of Hong Kong’s waters has lately made global headlines because of an unprecedented influx of rubbish.

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“We believe these vibrant artistic messages will mark a new turning point in drawing awareness to the detrimental consequences of drainage pollution and littering, while reminding the Hong Kong public that we are all linked to the ocean, even when walking down our city’s streets,” Woodring said.

The group raised funds two years ago with the help of environmentalist Simon Holliday, who made more than HK$235,000 in donations after swimming from Hong Kong to Macau.

The Grate Art project also involves Hong Kong Baptist University, which plans to install 50 tiles around its campus in the coming months.