Wildlife may be harmed by palm oil spill in HK waters says environmental expert

The spill leaves up to 200 tonnes of waste to be cleared from our city’s beaches

Joshua Lee |

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Palm oil from the boat crash is seen at Cheung Chau Island.

The large palm oil spill near Hong Kong waters could cause more damage than the government claims, says global conservation body, WWF.

The clean-up of the spill continues today as large blots of congealed oil are being washed up on beaches across Hong Kong. Dead fish have also been seen washed up on the shore at some locations.

The spillage occurred when a vessel containing 9,000 tonnes of palm oil collided with another vessel last Thursday in the Pearl River Delta, causing its cargo to fall into the water.

Palm oil is commonly used in food production and cosmetics, and the government has said that palm oil is non-toxic and hasn’t affected marine life.

But Samantha Lee, Manger of Ocean Conservation at WWF, disagrees.

“While palm oil on its own is non-toxic, under high temperatures the oil could oxidise and break down into more toxic substances that are harmful to fish when ingested,” she told Young Post.

“Palm oil could absorb toxins and bacteria that grow on it in the water, making it more hazardous than in its raw form,” she added.

The government claims to have cleared over 50 tonnes of the oil, which washes up on the shore as a white, lard-like substance. But estimates suggest that there is still 100 to 200 tonnes of waste left to be cleared.

13 government-run beaches on Hong Kong, Lamma and Lantau Islands have been closed for safety. Swimmers have been advised not to enter the water or swim in these areas.

The Undersecretary for the Environment, Tse Chin-wan, visited Lamma Island today to inspect the situation. Two beaches on the island have been closed due to the large amounts of congealed oil.

“While there are fewer pollutants on the surface than previously, there is still a considerable amount left to clear,” Tse told the media. “The situation is slowly improving, but it will take time because it takes a while for the oil to disperse.”

There has been controversy surrounding the delayed response in the reporting of the incident. Tse insisted that the mechanism for reporting oil spills was functioning.

But Lee told Young Post that the government should review it’s reporting mechanism with the Mainland. “If the oil spill was something more harmful like petroleum, it could be a lot worse,” she said.