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Marine Refuse

Green Country Vol. 121 (Aug 2016)

Going to the beach is one of the most popular activities in the hot summer. However, beach goers have been frustrated on finding beaches in Hong Kong's southern waters covered with piles of rubbish. In fact, apart from the gazetted beaches, there is a quite a severe problem with rubbish along the coasts and in the waters of Hong Kong. Marine refuse refers to "any solid waste, discarded or lost materials, resulting from human activities, that has entered the marine environment irrespective of their sources." The Hong Kong government collects over 10,000 tonnes of marine refuse every year, 70% of which was "floating refuse" collected by the Marine Department while the remainder was "shoreline refuse" collected by the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department, the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department and the Leisure and Cultural Services Department.

According to a 2015 study commissioned by the Environmental Protection Department, some 70% of Hong Kong's marine refuse originates from shorelines and recreational activities; the remainder is from marine/waterway activities including fishing, vessels, and fish farms. Plastic and foam plastic fragments rank high on the top ten list of marine refuse, and the others are disposable food-related items such as beverage bottles, food wrappers, plastic bags, cutlery, etc.

The huge amounts of rubbish recently invading Hong Kong waters drifts in from mainland China. But in a study the government estimated that only 5% of marine refuse originates from outside Hong Kong. The study also showed that amounts of marine refuse jumped during festivals. For instance, on the day following the Mid-Autumn Festival, shoreline and floating refuse of Shek O Beach reached 4,200 kg, 122% more than ordinary days.

Although marine refuse accounts for less than 0.5% of overall municipal solid waste in Hong Kong, it directly threatens navigation safety and marine ecosystems. All around the world there are cases of marine animals suffocated by mistaking plastic pieces for food.

To alleviate the problem, we should never litter in coastal areas. Ideally, we should take away the rubbish to avoid it being drifted into the sea by wind or water current. The ultimate solution for marine and other refuse problem is to reduce waste at source, minimise the use of disposable cutlery, individual packaging and plastic bags.

Text | Candy Yau