ENVIRONMENT

Lamma islanders warned over pile of waste they cleared from beach

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 02 November, 2014, 6:08am
UPDATED : Sunday, 02 November, 2014, 6:08am

Far from the heart of Occupy Central, one woman is battling the government bureaucracy over accusations of a different kind of illegal occupation.

Long-time Lamma Island resident Jo Wilson, 45, has drawn the battle lines over the Yung Shue Wan waterfront rather than roads and government buildings.

Fed up with seeing piles of litter strewn along the coastline, the mother of two started a 42-day clean-up project, picking up all manner of rubbish that had washed on to the shore, with the help of dozens of volunteers.

Every morning since September 21, Wilson has gone to the beach, laboriously sieving sand to separate bits of glass, plastic and polystyrene as well as collecting construction waste.

Yesterday was the 42nd and final day - the figure is a nod to the number of kilometres that marathon runners cover during a race.

But little did she suspect that her sustained efforts - along with those of parents and children who have given up their time - would be rewarded with a warning from the Lands Department.

Two weeks ago, she was startled to find a letter from the department on top of a large pile of rubbish that volunteers had collected and placed in a corner.

The letter stated that the debris had to be moved as it was an "illegal occupation" of the land.

"Does that mean we are all liable to prosecution for cleaning up?" Wilson said.

She contacted several government departments and was met by a wall of bureaucracy, with reasons including that the area was not gazetted as a beach and interdepartmental confusion over responsibility for the rubbish.

Eventually, she found Food and Environmental Hygiene Department staff to help collect the rubbish.

A spokeswoman for the Lands Department said it knew about the clean-up but received complaints about the waste pile. Issuing the notice was routine procedure, she added.

Wilson said it was not the first time she had come up against officialdom.

About five years ago, she helped form local advocacy group Living Lamma. They wrote dozens of reports on environmental problems on Lamma and submitted them to the relevant Legislative Council bodies, but the group's efforts were futile.

"We wrote reports; it didn't work. We cleaned up beaches; it didn't work," she said.

So she decided to take matters into her own hands.

"We've occupied the beach with love and peace," she said, in a nod to the official name of the Occupy Central movement.

"It will continue and I will continue. We've got to have a new normal, but what we need is participation."

On Friday, a group of children from the Banyan House preschool joined Wilson to clean up the area. Maeve Cheng accompanied her three-year-old son Tak to pick up rubbish as well as good practices: "If you learn from an early age that you should recycle, it becomes a habit."