Beach Cleanup is a “Drop in the Ocean” student-led service group that strives to clean up beaches around Hong Kong. It also aims to further promote awareness to treat the wounds of the climate crisis through our CIS community as well as our local community. Beach Cleanup strongly believes that in order to make a difference, it is necessary to get our hands dirty.
Restoring the natural beauty of Hong Kong’s beaches, Beach Cleanup hopes to inspire all to eliminate single-use plastic from our wastestream in our daily lives. Furthermore, through raising awareness on marine wildlife and sustainable living, Beach Cleanup’s ultimate goal is to construct a positive systemic change.
IMPORTANCE OF THE OCEAN
The oceans make up 71% of the Earth’s surface. They are home to a huge number of living creatures, ranging from microscopic plankton to sea urchins to enormous whales. Over 700 million people are completely dependant on the ocean for their food, and on average 15% of a human’s diet is seafood-based. However, humans don’t just rely on the ocean for food. Boats have been used as a method of transportation for thousands of years, and it was only recently that planes took over as the main form of long distance travel.
Since the industrial revolution in the 19th century, the wasted materials leftover from mass production are often washed into the ocean. The problem is that wood, metals and toxic chemicals don’t belong in the ocean, and can pose a serious threat to ocean life. The problem of ocean pollution severely escalated in the mid 20th century, when plastic was invented and plastic bags, bottles and other disposable objects became popular. This increased the amount of waste exponentially, as these disposable plastic objects were thrown away after a single use, and often this meant they ended up in the ocean.
HOW PLASTICS HARM THE OCEAN
Plastics are incredibly popular in today’s world for their flexibility, tensile strength and low cost. Manufacturers use plastic to make packaging for their products, as they are very strong and keep the products safe. Plastics bags and bottles are used frequently, and out of all the plastic that gets manufactured on earth, only 9% gets recycled. There is already a huge amount of plastic in the sea, and more and more plastic is discarded every single day.
As the rate of plastic production increases constantly, the amount of plastic the ends up in the ocean also increases, and this causes huge problems. Marine creatures can’t see that plastic isn’t edible, and many will try to eat the plastic, which is toxic and can make them sick or even kill them. Many plastic products can also get caught on marine creatures’ body parts, and this can cause them severe discomfort and pain, and may hinder their ability to swim.
One of the main food sources for sea turtles is jellyfish. Since jellyfish look fairly similar in appearance to plastic bags, sea turtles often mistake them for jellyfish and eat them. Because of the way sea turtles’ digestive system is structured, they can’t really regurgitate food that the body rejects in the same way that humans do, so the plastic bag will end up sticking in the turtle's digestive system for a very long time. Stuck plastic pieces in turtles’ digestive systems, even those the size of bottle caps, can cause them to have a lot of trouble swallowing and digesting food. Larger pieces of plastic can trap gases inside the turtles’ bodies, making them float and become easy targets for predators, or starve to death.
If a single piece of plastic can single-handedly kill a sea turtle, imagine the damage being caused by the 150 million metric tons of it that are currently circling the ocean. To add on to that, anywhere between 5 and 12 million more tons of plastic enter the ocean every year, and that figure is growing.
OCEAN POLLUTION IN HONG KONG
Hong Kong began as a series of fishing villages, whose inhabitants depended on the sea for their food. Once Hong Kong was colonized by the British, it rapidly modernized and became a hub for trade, meaning merchants were leaving and entering Hong Kong by boat, and so Victoria Harbour became an extremely important trade hub. Over time, Hong Kong developed into a central hub for trade and commerce, so the ocean is an essential part of life in Hong Kong.
Although the ocean is a big part of Hong Kong and it should be respected, the seas in Hong Kong have become murky and extremely dirty because of all the waste that enters the water each year. In addition to all of the waste being expelled from Chinese factories into the waters around Hong Kong, a huge amount of plastic is used for disposable items as well. Greenpeace said to the SCMP that “It is common to see food items wrapped in multiple layers of plastic packaging”, and “The packaging may take just a second to remove but the plastic will stay in the oceans forever”.
What was once a small group of fishing villages living in harmony with nature has become a trade and commerce giant with no respect for the ocean, and as a consequence the ocean around Hong Kong has become incredibly dirty, and anywhere you go you can see piles of rubbish washed up on beaches and waste floating on the surface of the water. The severity of the situation is undeniable, and major action needs to be taken in order to rid the ocean of all this pollution.