From the surface, High Island Reservoir looks like any other body of water. But two years ago a local dive group found a sunken treasure at the bottom of this vast artificial lake in the New Territories. Once a self-sufficient Hakka community of 400 people covering a million square feet, the 300-year-old Lan Nai Wan Village was submerged during the construction of the reservoir and never seen again—that is, until the expedition undertaken by members of the Hong Kong Underwater Archeology Association, led and filmed by local director Derek Yee Tung-shing. There’s plenty more under Hong Kong waters that eludes the landlubber’s eye. If we drained Victoria Harbour, we’d all expect to find three cross-harbor tunnels, an infinite mesh of pipes and wires, and maybe long-missing tycoon Teddy Wang. But further out, by Stonecutter’s Island and Tsing Yi, the remains of the HMS Queen Elizabeth rest in peace. The ocean liner was owned by shipping tycoon Tung Chao-yung, father of former chief executive Tung Chee-hwa, and was meant to be converted into Seawise University (a university on the sea). On January 9, 1972, an arsonist set the boat alight and it capsized while on fire (Tung Chee-hwa himself was on board at the time and had to flee). The shipwreck lay untouched until it was used in a location shoot for the James Bond film “The Man with the Golden Gun.” It was eventually dismantled in 1975; part of it was removed, part of it was used to reclaim land for the airport, and the rest was left to the seabed forever. Even further out, to the easternmost edges of the SAR, a more ancient wonder lies submerged. Formed by a volcanic eruption 100 million years ago, the world’s largest group of hexagonal rock columns sits amid the Ninepin Islands. The 200 rocks cover 250 square kilometers and stand at 50 to 70 meters each. Out of Sight, Out of Mind Nonetheless, underwater archaeology and exploration doesn’t attract much hype in Hong Kong. “People aren’t interested because they think there’s nothing to find down there,” says Jackie Wu, chairman of the Underwater Archeology Association. But with our underwater landscape having undergone many transformations throughout the ages, Wu is certain there is much to be learned from delving deep beneath the surface. He points to the remains of some Qing Dynasty bowls he found in waters near the New Territories, which he believes are just the tip of another unexplored iceberg. Apart from apathy, the next biggest factor stopping our submerged treasures from being uncovered is poor visibility. “Because the waters are so polluted, visibility is usually only about 10 feet,” says Wu. Indeed, when we do talk about the waters in Hong Kong, the focus tends to be on pollution, and for good reason. According to a 2007 water-quality report released by the Environmental Protection Department, the seawater in Hong Kong has worsened sharply, with satisfactory levels during the day dropping from 87 percent to 80 percent within a year. The dissolvable oxygen level also dropped from 90 percent to 70 percent. Aside from reduced visibility, these drops also mean less in the way of sea life. Trash Talking Perhaps nobody gets more up close and personal with the changes in local water quality than the people working on the 70 vessels cleaning our waters. The Marine Department’s outsourced service collects floating refuse seven days a week, except during inclement weather conditions such as severe monsoons and typhoons. Mrs. To works on one of the “scavenging boats.” Apart from its daily routines around the harbor, her boat is required to sail to specific areas whenever a Marine Department patrol officer receives a complaint (Hotline: 1823). The most popular objects found during Mrs. To’s “scavenger hunts” are what you might expect: plastic bags, plastic bottles and polystyrene packages. But she has also picked up shoes, bamboo scaffolding, couches and even refrigerators. “We have no idea where these bulky things come from,” says the 53-year-old. Just how bad is our harbor litter problem? Last year a total of 12,209 tons of floating refuse were discovered. “Floating refuse like that can choke the cooling seawater suction inlets of vessels and foul propellers,” says a Marine Department spokesperson. Further water pollution comes from poorly disposed sewage. Perhaps one piece of good news is the Harbour Area Treatment Scheme now underway. The government started the $8.2 billion first phase of the scheme seven years ago. It involved the construction of a 23.6-kilometer-long system of tunnels deep underground, which carry 1.4 million tons of sewage each day from Kowloon and northeastern Hong Kong Island to a treatment plant at Stonecutters Island. The latter now treats 75 percent of the sewage that used to end up in the harbor. Soon the $20 billion second phase of the scheme is due to start, conveying the rest of our harbor-bound sewage to the plant. Hopefully this will clear the way for the exploration and discovery of more sunken treasures.