Looking at the map of Hong Kong's Islands (Photo credit: GGAS)

Plastic Free Seas, Yes Please!

March 31, 2017 / by / 0 Comment

Sorting through HKU’s bulk email can seem like a daunting task to tackle at times. Dozens of emails flood in each day with eye-catching titles, trying to snag your attention. A relentless torrent of guest lectures, notices, updates, surveys, Turnitin receipts… each appearing for a fleeting second before fading away into the chaos before you. Often, it just seems easier to ignore the ever-growing problem. But then, the issue it doesn’t go away. It builds up, until suddenly one day you find yourself surrounded with mountain of urgent tasks to handle. That (in a weird, overly metaphorical sense) describes the plastic pollution problem of our oceans, the importance of getting involved beach cleanup and the need to raise awareness of the impact we have on local marine life.

Beach cleanup at Lamma Island – I’m the one with the ponytail (Photo credit: GGAS)

During discovery week, I had the chance to go on a free boat trip organized by local charitable organization Plastic Free Seas and HKU’s Geographical, Geological & Archaeological Society (GGAS). (Links to their websites below) After a quick safety briefing and a harbor observation task, we set off toward Sok Kwu Wan Pier on Lamma Island, where we would be spending part of our day cleaning up one of its beaches. Along the way there, Tracy gave us a presentation about the state of Hong Kong’s coasts, ocean gyres and micro plastics in our oceans. It suddenly struck me how little I knew about those issues at first, particularly the nature of plastics in our seas. We often think of large things such as six-pack rings, Styrofoam food containers and plastic bags as making up most of the pollution. However the truth of the matter is that microplastics, which are less than 5 millimeters in size (from microbeads in cosmetics, scraps of food wrappers, degraded plastic particles from larger litter etc) can be just as deadly to marine life, as animals confuse them for plankton. Unfortunately, unlike larger litter, it is much harder to remove from the seas, leading to a “plastic soup” in certain parts of the oceans. Thus, it is vitally important to remove trash before it degrades to the point that the microplastics can only be filtered out of the water.

Microplastics in Aberdeen Harbor

Microplastics in Aberdeen Harbor

Once there, we all donned on a pair of gloves, grabbed a grey (for recyclable plastics) or black (for general garbage) bag and started collecting litter. As I did, it alarmed me how much of it was there and how herculean the task was to clean up even just a small area of the beach. Interspersed between larger, easier to collect litter was tons of the previously mentioned microplastics. What at first glance looked like shells, leaves and sand were parts of bottle caps, food wrapper and broken down Styrofoam pellets. Even with many pairs of hands hard at work, and dozens of filled trash bags at the end, there was still lots left to be done, as it felt as though the beach still looked the same as before with a barely noticeable dent made toward the extremely littered beach.

Us with some of the trash we collected (Credit: GGAS)

Us with some of the trash we collected (Photo credit: GGAS)

On our way to Pak Kok trawl site, a map was brought out (the society has “geographical” in its name after all!) so we could track our location at sea. Then we split up into groups: one first looking the plankton collected from the trawl with Edwin and the other group going with Julia and Mimi to discuss how the little things we can do every day to reduce our plastic output. I was completely fascinated by the various phytoplankton and zooplankton seen swimming in magnified drops what appeared to be dirty, murky brown water from the trawl (which also collected a few jellyfish and some plastic pieces as well), and it was one of the highlights of the trip for me (I study biology after all!) We then switched groups to talk about our impact on plastic pollution, and the things we can do to stop it, which felt like a nice conclusion to end off our time at sea before we headed back.

Looking at the map of Hong Kong's Islands (Photo credit: GGAS)

Looking at the map of Hong Kong’s Islands (Photo credit: GGAS)

So I encourage anyone who has read this far in this article to try, at least once a week, to do something related to reducing your impact on our seas. Each little action matters, each person can play a part. I’m not saying drop everything and immediately go out to clean up the beaches, but think about reducing the trash you produce, such as thinking twice before taking plastic cutlery with your takeout, or bringing a water bottle to fill up rather than using a disposable one. Check out the Plastic Free Seas website for ideas on little things you can do to get involved! There are many amazing opportunities to learn and do good at HKU or in Hong Kong, so slow down, take time away from your books every once in a while, to to sort through your HKU email and look for opportunities for growth in outside the classroom. You never know when you will learn something new and worthwhile! Again, thank you Plastic Free Seas and the HKU’s GGAS team for coordinating such a wonderful trip! Despite not being a member of either organization, I’m sure I speak on behalf of everyone by saying we had a fun and insightful time during our Reading Week!

Group Photo! (Credit: GGAS)

Group Photo! (Photo credit: GGAS)

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
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Freshman under Faculty of Science, still exploring majors. Ex-Texan, Hufflepuff, Prolific reader & Cuber/Solver of geometric puzzles.


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