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Hong Kong environmental issues

Hong Kong Spartan Race under fire for leaving litter at ecologically sensitive site

Organisers admit ‘room for improvement’ after Ha Pak Nai, a key habitat for horseshoe crabs and a wintering site for migratory birds, left strewn with plastic bottles, cartons and branded cordons

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 19 April, 2018, 6:40pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 19 April, 2018, 10:48pm

Organisers of an international boot camp-style obstacle race have been accused of failing to clean up after themselves following an event they held at an ecologically sensitive spot on Hong Kong’s coast.

Ha Pak Nai, with its intertidal mudflats and seagrass beds, is said to be the most important habitat for horseshoe crabs in Hong Kong, and is a key wintering site for migratory shorebirds.

About 4,700 people took part in the biannual Spartan Race at the Yuen Long site on Saturday.

Local resident Kevin Laurie, of the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s horseshoe crab specialist group, said he was shocked to arrive at the scenic beach on Tuesday and find it strewn with plastic cordons, drinks bottles and water cartons, and even strands of barbed wire.

“I had just gone to the beach to collect [skin layer specimens left behind by the crabs], so when I found the [rubbish] I was pretty disappointed, particularly given some of the noble aims of the event,” he said. 

The series, first held in Hong Kong in 2016, is now held in 25 countries around the world. Contestants can expect to “run, climb, push, pull, throw and crawl through walls, hills, trees, mud, barbed wire and other challenging but fun obstacles”, according to its website.

The plastic cordons found on the beach had Spartan Race labelling and most of the drinks bottles were from the brands Lucozade and Prolom water – both sponsors of the event. Laurie said he found a section of barbed wire lying in the sand and immediately disposed of it.

“It was only about two feet long, but lots of kids play on that beach,” he said. 

He said this was not an isolated case. “Walk around the route or venue of any major event in Hong Kong and you’ll see evidence of the same casual attitude by the participants to littering,” Laurie said. “I’d start the briefing of any event like this with the advice: ‘Your litter. Your responsibility’.”

Though not an endangered species, local populations of the horseshoe crab – considered “living fossils”, having been at the same stage of evolution for hundreds of millions of years – have declined drastically over the years as a result of coastal development, habitat loss, harvesting and pollution, which can affect their reproduction and survival rates.

The sensitive coastal ecology has previously come under threat from tourists using salt to draw clams from the mudflat.

Event organiser Hybrid Group Asia said the accusations of littering were “disheartening” since the company had expended all efforts to reduce waste, both before and after the event, including putting up signs reminding contestants of the importance of recycling, and setting up water stations.

“We had expected some litter on the course in areas without bins,” CEO Charlz Ng said

After the event, cleaning contractors had scanned the hillsides for three days for any litter and by Tuesday most had been removed, he said.

We agree there is room for improvement in preventing this and we will discuss and review our [waste management] plan
Charlz Ng, organiser

He added: “We agree there is room for improvement in preventing this and we will discuss and review our [waste management] plan.”

Edwin Lau Che-feng, executive director of The Green Earth, an environmental protection group, said any company holding an event at an ecologically sensitive site needs to heighten conservation awareness in the planning.

He said plastic waste often ends up in the ocean and breaks down into microplastics, which can enter the marine food chain. About 80 per cent of marine litter is plastic, mostly plastic bottles, plastic bags and packaging.

“In approving or prioritising applications for hosting events at venues, government departments should request some sort of basic waste management plan or post-event waste audit from an organiser,” he said.

From book fairs to marathons, several large events have come under fire in recent years from environmental groups for generating large amounts of waste.

The littering was deemed serious enough for the Environmental Protection Department and the Business Environment Council to jointly issue a guidance booklet on waste reduction for major community events in December.

Gerard Butler has a lot to answer for – Spartan Race

The guidebook advises event organisers to properly sort waste and set up appropriate recycling collection facilities, issue clear guidelines on proper recycling and provide buckets to drain bottles before disposal into recycling bins. It also calls for event organisers to conduct waste audits and publicise their waste-reduction achievements.