Home > Focus HK
Monday, August 22, 2016, 09:54

El Nino sweeps trash onto Hong Kong beaches

By Sylvia Chang

Regional action vital to contain marine refuse

El Nino sweeps trash onto Hong Kong beaches
Major marine refuse flows along Pearl River Delta. (Source: Environmental Protection Department, HKSAR)(Infographic by Dong Kai, Sylvia Chang, Gun Mok )

Editor's Note : In part two of a series on the impact of global warming on southern China, Sylvia Chang traces the excessive trash on HK's shores after Typhoon Nepartak this July, to a complex regional interplay of storm surges, floods, sea current flows and inadequate waste management in HK and other cities of the Pearl River catchment area.

The unusually high volumes of rubbish deposited on Hong Kong shorelines in the middle of this year raised public alarm, hit newspaper front pages and prompted Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying to lead 70 civil servants on a Lantau Island beach cleanup in early July, for press and TV amplification.

There was widespread concern that Hong Kong's waste disposal and recycling systems are no longer adequate, and that the community itself was to blame. Concerned residents mobilized to scoop up the trash.

Social media went viral with images of bottles, plastic bags, leftover food, dead fish and abandoned furniture, piling up where children normally play on beaches. The Environmental Protection Department (EPD) was besieged by press, politicians and residents, to explain this abnormal deposit of marine refuse.

The Chief Executive pledged to follow-up his high profile Lantau beach clean-up with relevant authorities in Guangdong province, for a coordinated regional approach to tackling marine waste flows caused by extreme weather patterns destabilizing the Pearl River catchment area.

El Nino sweeps trash onto Hong Kong beaches
Left: Annual rainfall & marine refuse amount 2005-2015. Right: Monthly rainfall & marine refuse amount. (Sources: Hong Kong Observatory; Environmental Protection Department, HKSAR) (Infographics by Dong Kai, Sylvia Chang, Gun Mok )

Pearl River Delta floods

The EPD recorded a six to ten-fold increase in volumes of beach rubbish collected in June-July this year, against the annual average for the same period. It linked the spike in the June 2016 garbage volume, to a similar spike in 2005, when an even greater amount of rubbish washed up on our shores.

The extreme rainfall and thunder storms of June 2005 caused the worst flooding in 100 years of Wuzhou, Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region. The Pearl River catchment overflowed, flooding several cities, sweeping inland solid waste out to sea. Hong Kong was deposited as a natural consequence of powerful south-westerly winds and sea current flows.

The mid-2016 excess marine refuse on beaches pointed to more than a localized consequence of heavy rainfall. The incident was not unprecedented. Hong Kong experienced heavy rainfall and rainstorm records in 2006 and 2008 which also contributed to the larger amount of marine refuse in the two years. Extreme weather this year such as Typhoon Nepartak, exacerbates what is already a problem of inadequate waste management.

As Typhoon Nepartak hit Guangdong province, floods displaced 239,500 people across 11 cities, causing a total loss of 238 million yuan (US$35.8 million), according to the province's Department of Civil Affairs.

El Nino sweeps trash onto Hong Kong beaches
Beaches in HK affected by marine trash deposits. (Infographic by Dong Kai, Sylvia Chang, Gun Mok )

Latest News