On Monday night HK suffered its worst typhoon for 13 years. Typhoon Vicente was classed as T10 or Hurricane force with winds reaching 156km per hour. For us here in Discovery Bay the winds hit very hard. The rattling windows, howling, whistling winds and pounding rain were frightening throughout the night and as I lay awake my thoughts were with those less fortunate than us that didn’t have strong shelter protecting them.
The devastation the next morning was obvious and everywhere in Discovery Bay. Big trees were completely uprooted and blown over in the plaza, along the streets and sadly on the main beach; the only ones providing shade for the kiddies using the beach playground.
I was on the main beach (Tai Pak) yesterday but today I went to Sam Pak Wan at the north plaza to see the state of the beach. I had intended to take some photographs to use for a Post- Typhoon cleanup this weekend I was going to organise through DB Green but what I saw there almost made me cry.
I knew it was going to be bad. It always is after a typhoon, especially one as big as Vicente whose winds powered straight into DB but I really wasn’t prepared for what I saw.
The whole beach was covered in the usual tonnes of horrendous detritus spewed from the sea consisting mainly of styrofoam and ‘single use’ plastics.
But worse still, this time it also had what looked like a complete covering of snow. The words from my son years ago echoed in my head “Mum, will it ever snow in Hong Kong?’ Yes, Finn this week it has and the snow will last not just for a day but far beyond your life and that of your great grand children!
The snow was in fact nurdles. On the beach we found 30 bags each with 25 kgs of nurdles inside or 750 kg. 11 of the bags had split open and covered the whole length of the beach, that is 275 kg of nurdles on the sand. I did a weight estimate of the nurdles and surmised that the 275 kg equates to about 11 million plastic nurdles spilt on the sand with a total of at least 30 million on the beach!
So much publicity is given to oil spills and the harm it does to wildlife and beaches, and rightly so too, but this plastic spill is also an environmental disaster and needs to be treated as such. These pre-production plastic pellets – nurdles, are a health hazard with serious consequences to marine life and humans too. Not as obviously dangerous and shocking in photographs as a bird covered in oil is, but still equally as toxic. Once in the seas and oceans, these nurdles are sponges for Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) which are industrial chemicals or pesticides. POPs are highly toxic chemicals that can cause an array of adverse effects in humans such as cancer, reproductive disorders and disruption to the immune and endocrine systems. The easiest and most common way for these nurdles and therefore POPs to get into the food chain is to be mistaken as fish eggs and eaten by marine life. The effects of the POPs bioaccumulates in the food chain, so basically as the smaller fish get eaten by the larger fish the toxic loads increase as well.
Above are fish eggs attached to some ocean debris which was found from the Algalita/5 Gyres Tsunami Debris expedition.
So what can be done?
Hopefully a lot and it will take the efforts of many people and organisations to rectify this.
I will be contacting Sinopec who manufactured these nurdles to respond to this incident in an immediate and professional manner. As a company who has a Corporate Social Responsibilty policy in place I would expect them to have available the means to clean up a spill such as this. I am well aware that this incident happened during a typhoon but it is not an excuse to do nothing. I will also be contacting the Environmental Protection Department, the Marine Dept and the Food Environment & Hygiene Dept who collectively oversee our beaches as well as Discovery Bay’s City Management and my local District Councillor. I will continue with my planned beach cleanup on the weekend with community support and hopefully by then all the nurdles will have been removed from the sand so we can concentrate on the hundreds of kilograms of ‘disposable’ plastics caught in rocks and bushes. There is so much rubbish on the beach that it is going to take a lot of effort from all.