Hong Kong adventurers to launch paramilitary ‘assault on trash’ washed up on hard-to-clean beaches

Outdoor enthusiasts will use abseiling, kayaking and coasteering to clean up six hard-to-access coastal rubbish spots around Shek O and Big Wave Bay in a military-style operation organised as part of the HK125 clean-up initiative

PUBLISHED : Friday, 20 October, 2017, 12:31pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 21 October, 2017, 11:19am

In May, Esther Röling and Paul Niel climbed, scrambled and swam their way around Hong Kong Island, on a first of its kind ‘coasteering’ expedition. The Hong Kong-based couple spent a week out on the rocks, braving the elements – including a black rainstorm – day and night to create the city’s first coastal pollution map in partnership with the Open University of Hong Kong, which provided them with a device for measuring water quality along the coastline.

“A lot has happened since then,” says Niexl. “We have mapped 163 trash sites around the island using the Global Alert app. The first batch of raw data is already available, but we are still waiting for the analysis from the Open University of the water samples. It looks we will have it a bit later this year.”

Couple who’ll walk, climb and swim around Hong Kong Island to create the city’s first map of coastal pollution

The two experienced climbers are now ready to get back out onto the cliffs, this time with the help of some fellow adventurers, to launch what they’re calling an ‘assault’ on Hong Kong’s coastal rubbish. On Saturday October 21, they will rally together a team of outdoor enthusiasts, including rock climbers, kayakers and fishermen, to target some of the less accessible rubbish sites that they found on during the Round the Island expedition.

This is no ordinary clean-up though: while most of Hong Kong’s clean-up groups target flagged beaches, these will be abseiling, climbing, rappelling and swimming to difficult to reach spots. “We will target the coastal stretch between Shek O and Big Wave Bay,” says Röling. “Most Hongkongers know these two beach areas, but in between are a lot of small inlets, coves and cliffs where rubbish has been piling up for years. On our last scout we found a whole cave full of styrofoam. It’s so sad.”

While they originally identified 163 sites, some of them were so close together that they dropped the number to 125 key sites, and together with Dr Robert Lockyer, director of operations at

Aquameridian Conservation and Education Foundation have launched ‘HK125’, a new initiative focusing on organising annual clean-ups of the worst affected spots around the island.

The group had planned to start earlier, but their efforts were postponed by a string of typhoons and the devastating 1,000-tonne palm oil spill in the waters southwest of the city in August.

“Everywhere is a mess at the moment,” says Lockyer. “The heavy rain in the past few months has caused the large amounts of plastic waste that was piled on some islands – including trash that’s normally above the hide-tide mark – and in blocked river ways to flood out into the ocean. And now that’s collected on beaches everywhere.”

Regular clean-up groups are overwhelmed by the sheer volume of the work that needs to be done this year, adds Locker. “The normal crews are really burnt out,” he says. “So there’s a shortage of people doing it this year. What you’re seeing on a remote beach today is two to three times what you’d normally find.”

HK125 will partner with NGOs Ocean Recovery Alliance for the October 21 clean-up. Lockyer says that some 25 other NGO groups in Hong Kong have volunteered to join them in their future efforts. “We’re putting down a plan for how all these NGOs can work together in 2018,” he says. “It will be one of the first times that so many NGOs have collaborated together on such a large-scale, sustained clean-up in Hong Kong other than an emergency situation.”

Out on the rocks, Hong Kong couple braves the storm to create pollution map

The plan for the 21st is to target six sites. The crew will abseil down the face of the cliffs to the beach near Shek O Country Club golf course. There, they’ll gather the rubbish, polystyrene and plastic and put it into rubbish bags. Local sea kayakers will then come in and take the bags out to boats that are waiting in safe water.

“It’s going to be really fun. It’s almost what I’d call a paramilitary operation,” says Lockyer. “You’ve got abseiling, you’ve got coastal trekking around the side of a cliff, you’ve got people putting items into a black bag and smuggling the black bags off an island in a kayak to a waiting Zodiac (inflatable boat) to be whisked away.

“It’s great to see the outcome of what Esther and Paul did.”

Röling says they are still on the lookout for experienced hikers, climbers and kayakers to help them on the day, and urges people to express their interest via the HK125 Facebook page.

Due to the risky nature of the operation, only capable people should apply, cautions Lockyer. “People need to be aware that this is rope work off the face of the cliff, coastal trekking and paddling bags of rubbish out to kayaks,” he says.

For those less qualified outdoor enthusiasts who’d still like to show their support, there are plenty of other ways, whether it’s helping to spread the word or joining a more accessible clean-up (on October 22 in the afternoon there will be one on Stanley Beach and another at Shek O Rocky Bay), or picking up any washed-up rubbish you come across.

“If you are going hiking along a beach, check on the free Global Alert app whether there is a trash site that you can help clean up,” says Niel. “Everybody can join in.

“October 21 should raise awareness of the many locations outside the regular cleaned beaches that need to be cleaned,” he adds. “We hope to get the attention of the government and outdoor enthusiasts, so they get together to make Hong Kong a cleaner place.”

The HK125 Clean-up crew will be meeting at 11:30am sharp, October 21, Big Wave Bay upper car park. Search for ‘HK125 Coastal’ on Facebook for more details of this and future clean-ups.