What an incredible weekend! Hong Kong you have done yourself proud.
Photo taken by Cheung Chi Wai capturing the spirit of the day on Tung O. Co-operating to remove the hundreds of bags of collected pellets.
Two weeks ago today Typhoon Vicente hit Hong Kong and left us with a terrible legacy that will be with us for many years. I never thought this plastic pellet disaster would be a uniting point for Hong Kong. What we have witnessed these last few days has been unprecedented. Thousands of volunteers have taken up the call for action like never before to come out en masse to our beaches. Through social media and then mainstream media, everyone in Hong Kong has heard of what has happened and so many have come out to help.
Many of these people are way out of their comfort zone. They have never attended a beach cleanup and interacted in their environment as they have now. Gary and I have been so overwhelmed with offers of support. We have been absolutely inundated with emails, text messages, phone calls, Facebook posts … all from people asking where they can help out. And help out they/you have! Hitting the beaches, motivating friends to join and removing thousands of kilograms of pellets and plastic rubbish.
On Friday and Saturday we organised planned cleanups in Discovery Bay. Friday’s turnout was modest but Saturday’s was awesome! Over 400 people came here from all over Hong Kong to help out with some even travelling from Fanling. And they worked hard too; removing piles of pellets contaminated with typhoon debris and sweeping the beach of nurdle trails it was fantastic to see. But it didn’t stop there, the next day they came back. And they are back again today.
I have just returned from the beach inspired. People have taken it upon themselves to organise their own cleanup groups and come down to help. They are sweeping nurdles from the sand, scooping the soup of pellets from the water and piling the mounds of typhoon debris that still remains in bushes into garbage bags. There are some really ingenious nurdle capturing methods evolving. Everyone is down there working hard, having fun, connecting with their environment and really making a difference.
When I have thanked them all for coming down to help out, their responses are all the same. “It is my duty”, “These are our beaches too”, “I want Hong Kong to be a clean city with clean water”. These people do care about where we live and I really feel that this is the start of a movement that really pushes for the things that we NEED in the city. Clean air, clean water, clean surroundings. The will is certainly there to improve things we just need to keep acting.
On Sunday we went out to Tung O on Lamma Island to the site of the worst spill. The whole container load of pellets which is 1000 bags (25,000 kg) washed into this area. This really was ground zero in terms of contamination. It seemed that most of it washed into one area.
Sunday was the first day of mobilsation of people to this area. There was such a build up of momentum for this day, people wanted to help so badly. They had seen the photos of the ‘snow’ that was covering this beautiful and isolated part of HK and wanted to see for themselves the enormity of the pellet spill.
Most of the people travelled to Lamma by ferry and to get to Tung O it is then a 1 hour hike. By the end of the day we had over 1000 people in one bay, on the beaches and in the rocks. Words can’t describe accurately how special this was to see. All these people cared so much and made this big effort to get here bringing with them buckets, spades, seives, bags, water and anything else they thought they needed. They were streaming into the bay from the hiking trails and off junk boats.
Ocean Park had also become involved over the weekend to help mobilise volunteers and they brought with them hundreds of people. Lamma Corner (NGO) helped co-ordinate this mass of incoming visitors. Sinopec also had 50 of their staff to come and help cleanup with their volunteers including some senior management from Beijing. The government was there too with teams from the FEHD & Marine Dept.
Thanks to Yiu Nam for this photo
If I had had the chance to take a breath and think about what I wanted the outcome of this disaster to be I could never had imagined that my ‘plastic dreams’ would come true. To have thousands of people come down to the beaches day after day and get involved in a cleanup event is unheard of. Removing the nurdles from the beaches and sea was the number 1 priority. But having people really see for themselves the wider effects of our daily living in HK was the best bit for me. Having the chance to talk to these volunteers was inspiring.
On the beaches we saw families with children enthusiastically picking out nurdles from the sand and their parents picking up plastic bottles, bags & styrofoam that was also littering the beach. We need to join the dots, or the nurdles, and realise that this problem of plastic on our beacches is only going to be solved when we change our behaviours. Picking up plastic, nurdles, bottles, straws, wrappers and everything is necessary but reducing dependence on them in the first place will have a very big impact too!
Keep up the fabulous work HK and thank you – you people amaze me and give me hope!