Environmentalists look to boost Hong Kong beach clean-ups with social media platform to coordinate efforts

Green groups aim to boost efficiency after palm oil spill inundates local beauty spots

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 23 August, 2017, 5:39pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 23 August, 2017, 8:46pm

A social media-based platform has been set up to coordinate the Hong Kong beach cleaning efforts of different non-profit and environmental groups in a bid to make operations more structured and efficient.

HK125 Coastal was put to the test earlier than planned when dozens of green groups – in rare collaboration – used it to strategise shore clean-ups after a palm oil spill on August 3.

The platform was not scheduled to launch until late next month, but then came a collision between two ships, the Global Apollon and Kota Ganteng, in the Pearl River estuary. The incident caused 1,000 tonnes of palm stearin to spill into the sea, much of it washing up on Hong Kong’s southern shores.

Clean-ups at beaches have been left to more than 300 government staff, but volunteer crews from around the city have contributed heavily.

“We’ve seen some good results. It was the first time all environmental groups were able to communicate daily on a centralised platform,” said Lamma Island resident Robert Lockyer, the platform’s de facto coordinator.

Palm oil that spilled onto Hong Kong’s beaches turned into crude gasoline

Lockyer, an Australian retiree who has lived in Hong Kong for a few years, said volunteer beach clean-ups were often unstructured and lacking in organisation. It did not help that environmental groups sometimes appeared “territorial” or were “unwilling to cooperate with one another”. This often led to overlapping or misallocation of resources and manpower, he said. Volunteers often showed up without the right safety gear and equipment.

HK125 Coastal, conceived at a meeting of several groups over coffee in June, aimed to solve these issues, Lockyer said.

“It allows for better coordination, efficiency, speed and safety of operations. It also lets us develop a paper trail by documenting the data on a clean-up,” he said.

No data has been logged on what the groups have collected so far, but that could change after September.

He said a structured platform would allow members to collectively seek ways to dispose of rubbish collected and liaise with government departments. Members would be notified via Facebook where clean-ups and manpower were needed most.

Palm oil collected from Hong Kong beaches after spill to be recycled and turned into fuel

It is understood that more than 20 groups are involved with the platform, including Sea Shepherd Hong Kong, Plastic Free Seas, Sea Kayak Hong Kong and WWF-Hong Kong, in addition to other Lamma and Sai Kung residents groups.

The platform is currently focused on 125 coastal refuse blackspots on Hong Kong Island but Lockyer said it would eventually expand to more islands and hiking trails.

Last year, government departments collected 16,485 tonnes of rubbish from Hong Kong waters, the highest annual haul for a decade.

As of Friday, government departments had recovered 212 tonnes of palm stearin from the sea surface and beaches. Some of it has been handed to contractors to turn into biodiesel.