Moving forward on marine litter(只限英文版) | WWF Hong Kong

Moving forward on marine litter(只限英文版)

06 February 2018

Every year, the Hong Kong Government, on average, collects 15,000 tonnes of marine litter, filling up 3,750 garbage cars. The rubbish is collected from gazetted beaches, typhoon shelters, Victoria Harbour and other highly visible coastlines to remove eyesores and prevent hygiene issues. However, sea-goers are surely familiar with the unpleasant sights on remote beaches and sea caves filled with litter from the lack of active management.
Regular attendance to popular coastlines by the government may have given the public temporarily cleaner beaches to enjoy but the problem then becomes ‘out of sight, out of mind’. Further, changing oceanic flows and outflows from the Pearl River shifts the accumulation of marine litter from the western and southern coasts in the rainy season to the eastern and northeastern coasts in winter1.
With such seasonal changes, sites are often affected in an on-and-off manner which further diminishes the effects felt. Therefore, the severity of Hong Kong’s marine litter is often swept under the carpet, or more precisely, swept out to sea.
To turn the tide, WWF-Hong Kong launched a two-year public awareness and research campaign named ‘Coastal Watch’ back in 2014. Together with a number of partnering NGOs, the public were engaged to conduct beach clean-ups and litter surveys to help identify priority sites and sources of marine litter.
The public aided the campaign from shore to seabed, utilizing different skills and expertise to help. They did on-shore surveys on macro and micro-sized debris. Divers assessed underwater litter and fishermen helped with the collection of floating litter by using their vessels.
Results all pointed to plastic being the main pollutant and our disposable culture as the culprit. No matter if it was onshore, floating or underwater, 60% to 80% of all marine litter found was made of plastic. Glass and metal were the other two major types.
The categories of litter collected were plastic bottles and caps, plastic packaging and wrappers, plastic straws and stirrers, polystyrene fragments of food containers and fish boxes, plastic bags, plastic food containers, metal beverage cans and glass bottles and fragments.
Drawing from these results, a second phase of work to target the source and engage various stakeholders began in 2017. One of our new focuses is to tackle the disposable culture during sea-outings. In terms of amount, marine litter collected by the government starts to increase in May and peaks in August1. The cause is most likely due to the increase in marine recreational activities and rainfall which further washes shore litter into the sea.
Disposable items may well make recreational outings less of a hassle, but a change in mentality is needed. To outreach to the sea-going public, WWF is seeking the help of marine recreational groups such as water sports communities, yacht clubs, boat charter companies, etc. With their constant contact with users of our waters, their involvement is of prime importance in changing habits.
In our ‘ECF Sea Without Litter’ project, we aim to gather the strength of the marine recreational sector to help us educate members, customers and staff and act as role models to lead industry changes. To aid the process, WWF provides talks, educational material and recycling bins to those who have joined the project, to encourage the 3Rs at their centres and boats. Cleanups are also organized so that members and staff get a more hands-on experience.
Other than changing attitudes and personal habits, WWF hopes to facilitate operational changes to prompt waste reduction, proper waste disposal and recycling. Here, we again seek the input of marine recreation groups to identify problems and opportunities for change.
For instance, with the help of participating companies, 13 public piers have been identified as priority for recycling facilities. A range of improvements needed to facilitate vessel waste treatment were also noted. These findings are to be shared with a number of relevant government departments to bring forward changes.
To listen to and encourage suggestions, we welcome any interested marine recreational groups to join in our workshop to be held in April 2018. Help us to help you make it easy to go green!
Of course, it is unfair to only point a finger at the marine sector. Littering and the disposable culture, no matter on land or at sea, can pose a threat to the marine environment. Hong Kong’s stormwater collection system connects directly to rivers and seas, without treatment, to allow quick drainage and prevent flooding. Litter on the streets can get washed out to sea by entering into this system.
On this matter, 11 schools are participating in the ‘Marine Litter Detectives’ programme, where around 100 floating GPS devices have been dropped into rivers and drains. To date, two-fifths of the devices deployed in rivers have entered into the sea. One-fifth of the devices deployed in drains have joined them. Three of them have left Hong Kong waters, with two carried out to southwest Mainland waters and one reaching Taipei!
With these alarming results, WWF and participating schools will continue with their attempts to educate the public on reducing the use of throwaway material and proper waste disposal habits.
WWF will continue to explore new ways to combat marine litter, but we cannot do it on our own. From our Coastal Watch findings, we have come to understand that different regions across Hong Kong can have varying marine litter sources which require different approaches and solutions. Aside from the marine recreational sector, our work has been extending into engaging local communities to generate momentum and awareness for community-based solutions.
Efforts are gradually moving across the border, too! The fisheries industry is also working with us to find a replacement for expanded polystyrene (EPS) fish boxes to reduce the occurrence of ‘white snow’ at sea as EPS containers break down into unsalvageable tiny pieces.
We are prepared for a long battle on many fronts to make our sea cleaner. However, thanks to the voices, actions and dedication of many, individual and groups, we are advancing. We look forward to more of you joining us in our fight!
Note: come to WWF workshops on marine litter to give us your thoughts. For more details, feel free to contact Ms Kwong Chi Yu on +852 2161 9653 or at
The article is published on Fragrant Harbour in January 2018.
1 Mott MacDonald (2015) Investigation on the Sources and Fates of Marine Refuse in Hong Kong