Hong Kong water sportspeople called on to help in battle against plastic pollution on World Oceans Day

Ocean pollution is so bad in Hong Kong that water sportsmen and women constantly battle with skin and eye infections

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 07 June, 2017, 12:35pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 08 August, 2017, 2:41pm

Skin rashes, eye infections and other waterborne aliments are hazards water sportspeople face every time they take to the sea.

“It is currently just something you have to accept if you want to be in and on the water in Hong Kong,” John McLennan, team captain of the men’s outrigging team at the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club (RHKYC), told the Post.

Pollution and plastic waste is the cause of the aliments, claimed McLennan. As a result, he is helping organise a clean up on Saturday.

RHKYC outriggers, canoes, coastal rowers and dragon boaters will head to Round Island off Repulse Bay to try and pick up as much plastic as possible.

The RHKYC’s effort is part of a wider call to arms. The Ocean Recovery Alliance has rallied the ‘Oceanic Big Five’, including surfers, sailors, swimmers, divers and paddlers, to organise clean up efforts on or around World Ocean Day, June 8.

The problem is most apparent to paddlers because they are in small boats and are close to the water.

“We see all the beaches as well and paddle through everything that floats through Hong Kong waters. We have seen it all,” McLennan laments.

“You, as athletes and users of the ocean, are in the front lines of ocean protection and can be excellent stewards and ambassadors for the ocean,” the Ocean Recovery Alliance website appealed to water sports participants.

Much of the pollution comes from the Mainland, McLennan believes. After heavy rain fall he notices more plastic in the water due to the run off into the Pearl Delta. Another cause is semi-treated sewage, he added.

Douglas Woodring, co-founder of Ocean Recovery Alliance, said poor management by large events held in Hong Kong contributes to the pollution. Even water-based events like dragon boating and the Cross Harbour Swim add to the problem. There are a lot of water bottles used, and very little recycling, he claimed.

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The responsibility of cleaning up after the events is left to a few elderly government contractors and not taken on by the organisers or their sponsors, Woodring said. The events should use refilling stations, and not disposable water bottles, he suggested.

Awareness and education are the solutions, McLennan said. “A huge portion of the Hong Kong population has nothing to do with the water that surrounds more than 90 per cent of Hong Kong and how they live affects the water around them. Perhaps teaching everyone in Hong Kong to swim in the ocean would help raise the awareness,” he mused.

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On the bright side, Mclennan thinks the younger generation are more aware of the issue and that will reduce the problem in the future. What’s more, since shore trawling was banned in Hong Kong, he has seen an increase in marine wildlife.

A recent film, A Plastic Ocean, directed by Hong Kong-based Craig Leeson, says that eight million tones of plastic is dumped in the ocean every year.

The film producers estimate that 50 per cent of plastic is used once and thrown away. It said one million plastic bags are used every minute, and that plastic bags are used on average for 15 minutes before being thrown away. The myth that plastic can be disposed of is the source of the problem, the film said. In reality, it just ends up in landfills or the sea.

If you want to help battle the plastic problem, there is a cleanup on Saturday in Aberdeen harbour.