This is Evie. She was born in Hong Kong and has spent her childhood growing up less than 100m from a beach.
Her home here is on an island in a tropical archipelago with incredible marine biodiversity. Would you believe there are even pink dolphins living off the island she lives on! Actual dolphins that are bright pink! There are also green sea turtles, finless porpoise and even migrating whales that pass by. But Evie does not like the beach or like to go in the water. She doesn’t do any water sports either. But I can’t really blame her and I feel sad, angry, resentful and frustrated that her childhood memories and her associations with the beach will not be fond ones. There will be no memories of sandcastles, unhindered exploration of rock pools or joyous hours splashing in the water. Only resentment at doing endless, pointless beach cleanups. She didn’t make this mess but she has helped clean it up.
Unfortunately this is becoming the new norm of beaches in Hong Kong, especially at this time of the year … summer. The time of the year when you want kids to be out at the beach playing and having fun. Diving under the waves in the cool refreshing water. Splashing about with their mates laughing, enjoying themselves. Running on the hot sand and spending carefree days … outside. But it is not fun any more. And actually it is not safe either. Amongst all the plastic is medical waste – needles and syringes and myriad other objects that should not come into contact with bare feet.
It used to be that after a day at the beach you would leave with salty, squeaky clean skin and hair. There would be sand in-between your toes and lots of other places. Now, you leave the beach feeling dirty, contaminated and with microplastics sticking to your skin. The filth of the beaches is accepted as normal by far too many people. To see people coming to the beach and ‘not seeing’ the rubbish that swirls on the shoreline and piles along the tidelines is disturbing. To see the next generation not wanting to engage in nature and explore our unique and wild places is truly frightening. The disconnect between ourselves, our lifestyles and our life sustaining habitats is something that should set alarm bells ringing. What legacy are we leaving for our children? What do we want them to value? What do we want them to care about? How can we expect them to care about dolphins and turtles and migrating whales when the only ones that are in the news are the ones that wash up dead with bellies full of plastic trash. Trash that we have made when we eat food or snacks, drink on the run, clean our bodies or our houses. The opportunities to see these majestic creatures in their natural habitats are limited or non existent because they themselves are struggling to survive in our local polluted waters because of continued, unabated threats. The hopelessness is overpowering. It will take a lot of commitment and strong will of governments and corporations and also everyday people to change the current narrative of making money at any cost, consumption for convenience, poor design of products and packaging, poor waste management practices, devaluing our natural life support systems (our oceans!) and putting the individual ahead of the community. We are all part of this big mess that we are making and we all need to acknowledge this and turn the tide on the world we are making. We all have our role to play – what can you do to make the biggest difference?