Environmentalists behind a new book tracing the city's rich maritime history say a huge spill of plastic pellets into the sea has helped raise awareness of the delicate balance between Hong Kong's residents and its greatest natural asset: the harbour and surrounding waters.
Yesterday, hundreds of volunteers continued to clean up millions of plastic pellets that washed up along dozens of beaches after six shipping containers in which they were being carried fell off a ship during Typhoon Vicente last month.
The Food and Health Bureau said some pellets had been found inside fish at Chi Ma Wan, a site for fish farms off southeastern Lantau, and that more than 600kg of pellets had been collected from Lantau and Lamma islands, Peng Chau, Discovery Bay and Cheung Chau by Friday.
The pellets themselves are not harmful, according to officials and the pellets' manufacturer, mainland petrochemical giant Sinopec, but green groups say them can become coated with contaminants while in the water. 'It's a sad thing that happened but it was a great response with groups, many of them young people, self-mobilising to clean up,' said Doug Woodring, founder of Hong Kong-registered charity Ocean Recovery Alliance and co-author of Water Margin: Hong Kong's Link to the Sea.
Woodring collaborated with marine consultant Matthew Flynn on the 172-page bilingual book which features stories and photography about the city's marine ecosystem from its early days as an opium trading hub to the colourful creatures that live underwater to current issues such as sustainable seafood.
About 750 copies of the book, which includes images from award-winning photographer Robin Moyer, will be distributed free to schools. The title alludes to the 14th century novel Water Margin, one of the four great classics of Chinese literature.
Woodring said the book's release was timely as a new chapter in the city's marine history would start at the end of this year when a trawling ban comes into force.
'The ban will give the ocean a chance to regenerate,' he said, describing it as the most significant government legislation in the past 30 years.
Woodring, who moved from California to Hong Kong about 20 years ago, said people often asked why he chose to live in such a crowded and polluted city. 'I tell them it's like New York and Hawaii put together, but they don't understand the Hawaii part,' at least until he shows them pictures of the pristine natural beauty that surrounds the cityscape, Woodring said.
Flynn started researching the book about three years ago after Woodring approached him about the project.
'Hong Kong is a very crowded place and we are going to have to make well-informed choices,' Flynn said.
The city was moving away from a model where businesses drove development to 'one where the community is increasingly involved', he said, 'but in the past, we've treated it as a place to extract from and dump into'.
Flynn said he was heartened by the public's reaction to the pellet spill but 'it's a fragment of a much larger issue'.
'This book helps build the momentum and awareness needed to revive the aquatic environment that surrounds this exceptional city for the enjoyment and benefit of Hongkongers for generations to come,' he said.