Now that school has started again, everyone has come back to Hong Kong and to their usual routines. The plastic pellet disaster is more under control and I am able to do some normal things too like see friends again. The first question I am often asked is ‘How was your trip to the Pacific garbage patch?’ and the second is usually ‘What does the garbage patch look like?’
The reactions of people are intersting to watch. When I tell them about the expedition and how there is not one huge floating island of trash, to some it is a bit disappointing. They want to see shocking photos of wastelands and obvious giant trash slicks floating across the ocean. For them the sinister soup lying under the surface that cannot be dramatically photographed is not really as exciting or as interesting. Nor is the intermittently spaced floating trash. So it is with these thoughts in my head that I approach the cleanup here.
I spent all day Sunday on Sam Pak Wan beach in Discovery Bay helping the many cleanup volunteers who were there to remove the plastic pellets & beach trash. Compared to what it has been like the last few weeks with pellets and years with trash, the beach is ‘clean’ and it is so beautiful. Sunday was what is known in Hong Kong as ‘a blue sky day’ (most other cities would just call this ‘a normal day’) because the air pollution was not so dense we could see blue sky and a stunning HK island cityscape. There are a lot of things I love about HK but the below picture is not one of them.
When I arrived for the cleanup in the morning I watched as a revolting mass of waste came floating towards our beautiful beach that we had spent thousands of man hours cleaning over the last five weeks. There was actually a slick of waste streaming in hundreds of metres towards the rocky shore. All I could think of was how much people wanted to see photos of the ‘Great Pacific Garbage Patch’ when all they needed to do was come down to their local beach to witness in part to what they had imagined. Here was an impressive garbage patch we can ‘proudly’ call our own.
One tide on an average day was bringing in such a huge amount of waste. Not as great as the ‘Great Pacific Garbage Patch’ but it is all here and if we don’t remove this some of it will probably end up there. Whilst attempting to clear some of this from the rocks I saw all the things we saw whilst in the middle of the Pacific Ocean; plastic bottles, cigarette lighters, hard plastic, microplastics, styrofoam, lids, crates and net balls. The net balls we saw in the ocean were whole thriving ecosystems. We found starfish and reef fish amongst the other creatures and each of the net balls contained more than 100 different pieces of nets, rope, bags and other forms of plastic.
The tangled balls attract other debris as well as marine organisms and they float and collect and carry their occupants vast distances. The fish and marine life depend on these net balls for protection and their food source, their whole life revolves around a trash ball of plastic! Finding coastal fish in the middle of the ocean is disturbing but having them float to other reef systems as introduced species can have devasting consequences.
Cleaning up here is so much easier than cleaning up the ocean. But wouldn’t it be great if we didn’t have to do so much cleaning because we didn’t produce, use and waste so much in the first place?