The sources of Hong Kong’s marine litter can differ widely across the territory, depending on the area’s geographical location, orientation and human uses. Understanding the sources of marine litter in the different districts is important in developing more targeted strategies and tactics. To achieve this goal, WWF has been partnering since 2017 with various local community groups including fishermen, community centres, owners’ corporation and district councillors in 10 districts. Through coastline surveys and clean ups, as well as conducting community workshops and forums, we aim to formulate solutions to tackle our marine litter problem.
Garbage beach@Lamma Island
BeachcombingSpring is here and beach season has officially begun. But what should you pack? Hat, towel and sunscreen? Or garbage bag, gloves and tongs?Marine litter is a persistent environmental issue in Hong Kong. To deal with it at the source, WWF is working with the marine recreational and fishery industries. Learn more: http://wwf.hk/SeaWithoutLitter_e#SeaWithoutLitter #LammaIsland #MarineLitterPosted by WWF Hong Kong on Tuesday, March 13, 2018
WWF launched the ECF Sea Without Litter project in 2016 to promote the idea of marine litter source reduction through engagement with the marine recreational industry, fisheries industry and schools. To continue this spirit of empowering society to more proactively solve the marine litter problem, a community-based approach by training community leaders and implementing demonstration projects will be launched in November 2018.
A clean and healthy sea allows marine recreational businesses to thrive and allows for the enjoyment of sea-goers. However, seaside leisure activities tend to create significant litter and have been identified as among the sources of our marine litter, which increases from May and peaks in August, coinciding with the peak season of marine recreational activities1. Increased rainfalls in the summer months also contribute to the problem by washing seaside litter into the sea.
In April 2017, WWF launched the “ECF Sea Without Litter” project, involving more than 30 marine recreational groups and businesses. Participating groups helped educate their staff, members and customers about marine litter and invited them to help clean up the sea. The groups were also encouraged to improve their operations, such as sorting and recycling their waste and to replace disposable tableware and cutlery with reusable ones. Following the conclusion of the project in September 2018, a brainstorming workshop gathered opinions and suggestions from various groups to identify challenges faced in waste reduction and treatment. Their valuable input helped us formulate our next steps to further engage with the marine recreation sector and to facilitate seaside waste management and reduction.
While floating litter and those at shore are relatively accessible for general clean-up, underwater litter require the help of divers.
WWF cooperates with the AFCD and the Hong Kong Reef Check to engage reef check teams and volunteer divers to conduct surveys on underwater litter. Mesh bags are provided to divers for them to pick up litter during dives.
Studies from Coastal Watch have found polystyrene fragments to be among the top 10 of most common types of marine litter in Hong Kong. One of the sources of polystyrene fragments is the boxes commonly used by the fishery and seafood industry.
Polystyrene is fragile and light. It breaks into small pieces easily and is carried away swiftly by wind and water currents, hence affecting large areas of the coastline that are difficult to clean. Polystyrene also has a high thermal insulation capacity, which is ideal for keeping fish fresh during transport and is therefore widely adopted by the fishery and seafood industry. Due to the fragile nature of the fish boxes, fragments are often broken off during operations and enter the sea easily. Their operations are in close proximity to the sea, any accidental leakage or intentional dumping of fish boxes into the sea causes much contamination.
WWF is working with the industry to study feasible alternatives to polystyrene fish boxes. WWF is also seeking the industry’s input on improving fish box-collection methods to reduce dumping into the sea.
Abandoned fishing nets, also known as ghost nets, are a global problem that greatly impacts wildlife. Entanglement causes wildlife injury even death, especially when it traps marine mammals underwater, drowning or starving the trapped animal.
There is little incentive for the fishing industry to collect worn-out nets due to no convenient outlet or extra fees. Furthermore, when nets are tangled up at the bottom of the sea, the effort and resources needed to retrieve them is much greater than buying a new net.
Removing an underwater net could be dangerous and requires experienced divers to do so. Currently, a specialised team of divers in AFCD is responsible for removing ghost nets. Nevertheless, their manpower is limited and the exact location of reported ghost nets is often hard to find. WWF is developing a citizen science survey and ghost net reporting system to improve the success of locating the ghost nets and will aid in the training of more divers to assist in removing these nets. We believe that the less time a net is in the water, the less chances of it entangling and killing marine life.
Other than enhancing the removal of ghost nets, WWF will engage with the fishing community to improve net collection and recycling, to reduce the number of nets abandoned at sea. Recycling discarded fishing nets into fashion accessories is also another initiative carried out with fashion brand Ooobject, highlighting how the fashion industry can also play a role in marine conservation.
Located at the mouth of the Pearl River, Hong Kong faces a serious trans-boundary marine litter problem by no means unique to Hong Kong. We have to form cross-border partnerships to tackle the problem comprehensively as knowledge-sharing and collaborative actions between NGOs and community groups across the border are vital.
WWF is actively engaged with NGOs from mainland China, Macau and Taiwan. Through various cross-border workshops and field trips, we exchange ideas and initiate cross-border collaborative actions to solve the regional marine litter problem. These initiatives strengthen the bonds between stakeholder groups from the Greater Bay Area, which is inter-connected by the Pearl River, to share responsibility for the cleanliness of the region.
A significant amount of litter generated on land eventually filter to the ocean. But how do they end up there? WWF, in collaboration with MakerBay, designed a GPS tracking device to monitor where litter end up once they enter the sea through inland storm drains and rivers. In the summer of 2017, we recruited students from 11 schools to become citizen scientists by helping trace litter movement. Their findings (interactive map) showed that 20-40% of these devices ended up in the sea from storm drains and rivers, proving that litter generated from land do end up in the sea, especially during rainstorms. One of the devices even travelled more than 800km from Hong Kong to Taipei, which highlights the transboundary issue of marine litter.
After the series of workshops and field studies, participating students were also inspired to develop their own initiatives in schools and communities, so that they could act as our ambassadors to spread the conservation message to the wider audience.
An upgraded version of the device will be launched soon to help develop regional cooperation on raising global awareness about land-based sources of marine debris. Stay tuned!