Andy Cornish's Blog

Dr Andy Cornish was raised in Hong Kong, and gained a strong interest in wildlife through spending time in Pokfulam Country Park. He studied Zoology at Nottingham University in England, travelled extensively through Central America where he learnt to scuba dive, and later did his PhD on reef fishes at the University of Hong Kong. Since then, he worked for a year doing coral reef management for the government of American Samoa, and taught in the Dept. of Ecology and Biodiversity at the University of Hong Kong. He worked at WWF from 2005 to late 2012 as Conservation Director, and was responsible for four programmes: Climate, Footprint, Local Biodiversity and Regional Wetlands (including management of the Mai Po Nature Reserve). He remains involved in environmental issues on an independent basis.

Attack On The Sea Of Litter

Depts Finally Join Forces
May 1, 2013

How many government departments does it take to solve environmental woes? A whopping seven in the perennial problem of marine litter – and impressively seven is what we’ve got! Despite all its teething problems, one of the major signals that this government is determined to do things better than before is the unprecedented level of collaboration between bureaus and departments to tackle issues of overlapping interest.
Marine litter – in my opinion – may only scrape the top 10 of Hong Kong’s major environmental issues but it is in your face every time you do make it to the South China Sea lapping at our doorstep. Even the knowledge that the massive HATS project is greatly reducing the amount of sewage entering HK waters won't keep that smile on your face when you swim into a plastic bag. Fortunately government is finally stepping up to stem the garbage tide and yesterday shared the thinking of a new inter-departmental working group on clean shorelines - set up in November last year to keep momentum going from the unprecedented collaboration from the plastic pellet cleanup.
Before going any further a little explanation of why so many government departments are, and need to be, involved. The key is where the litter ends up, and how it got there. Thank God for 1823 otherwise you’d be forced to remember the following areas of responsibility:
AFCD – litter in marine parks and reserves
LCSD – litter on gazetted beaches
FEHD – litter on the coastline outside gazette beaches
MD – litter at sea
EPD – environmental issues generally
If you’re not familiar with the acronyms but dying to know I’ve provided links but the important thing is that these agencies first came to work together during the plastic pellet spill (see previous blogs) and with the many groups that worked tirelessly to remove them. Add in DSD and CEDD to stop rubbish getting into the sea in the first place (from drains and developments) and you’ve got a real force for change.
The intergovernmental working group, chaired by no less than Anissa Wong (Director of EPD and Permanent Secretary of the Environment) shared their progress since being established in November of last year and plans yesterday with environmentalists. Feedback was sought and there were no shortage of suggestions but no major gaps were identified.
The main information shared was;
i) The amount of marine litter collected has remained fairly constant over the past 10 years. By far the most of that is collected at sea (10.5 – 13 tonnes per year) by Marine Dept.
ii) A consultant has been hired to build on existing information and conduct a major study to examine the sources of marine litter and to make recommendations on how to reduce it, using litter collected from more than 20 sites around HK for a year.
iii) The working group is reviewing existing measures to tackle marine litter and will devise new ones (hardly rocket science but remember these agencies havn’t had a common goal before).
iv) DSD started experimenting with floating booms and nets to collect trash from two major outfalls this year.
v) A new government awareness raising campaign and online platform will all kinds of information and a public interface focused on clean coastlines will be launched in May (this year).
WWF and partner NGOs will also launch a shared platform in tandem to keep the momentum and collaboration from the plastic pellet spill going and there will be more opportunities than ever this summer to get stuck in and do your part to keep our coastline as spectacular as it should be! I don't anticpate the inter-governmental effort will make a huge difference to the amount of trash in the sea this year, but am certainly expecting big things next year after the study is complete. The big question of course is how much of the litter actually originates in HK as - like air pollution - this will be far more straightforward to deal with than that drifting in from Guangdong and beyond.
Lastly, reclamation sites were identified as one of the sources of marine litter. Not one I'd given much thought to previously until last weekend when I checked out the reclamation for a link road to the Zhuhai - Macao - HK Bridge that has started on the east edge of the existing airport platform. No shortage of silt curtain floats have broken free and washed up along the coast, and have even drifted south into what is left of Tung Chung Bay. At least I was able to share the information with EPD yesterday in person, and they've promised to investigate.




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