John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
Currents of garbage, probably from the Chinese mainland, are befouling beaches and clogging propellers.
Imagine heading to the beach only to find it carpeted with plastic cups, instant-noodle bowls, and dirty cellophane, then jumping in the water and landing in a floating garbage dump. That lovely leisure-day could be yours if you live in Hong Kong, where trash of all sorts has invaded the coasts, probably from the Chinese mainland.
The surge of crap began sometime in late June and was “some of the most serious instances of marine debris on the shores of Hong Kong's beaches and harbours in living memory,” according to the Save Aberdeen Harbour Alliance. Local officials believe the foul tide—“up to 10 times the usual volume” of garbage—was caused by flooding in China, which carried the waste from the Pearl River across the seas to Hong Kong. Many of the wandering bottles and containers do appear to carry codes of origin from China.
But while fetid onslaught has attracted much-deserved media attention, given scenes like this…
...trash in the water is nothing special for the region. “These trash flows are found on currents and are NOT new!!! They happen every day,” writes Gary Stokes of Sea Shepherd Hong Kong.
Last week, Stokes and a government representative took a spin around the coast looking for garbage. He describes the dismal trip on Facebook:
In general we are pleased to say that yesterday the seas were relatively clear, however we did find some current flows of trash similar in composition to the trash we have seen on our beaches. The same clear plastic cups and bowls as well as trash with simplified Chinese characters, many brandishing the QS logo, which is a China Quality and Safety logo.
In the Lamma Channel we did get the prop fouled up pretty bad with a combination of organic trash and fishing net. As this is one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world, this could have been dangerous should we have been in the oncoming course of a large container ship!
Stokes also posted photos of debris floating in lazy curves on the water’s surface, as well as lurking like brittle, toxic jellyfish below the waves. For a stark glimpse into the sorry state of our oceans—where humanity’s refuse has littered even the deepest spots—have a look at what Stokes’ and crew motored through: