Plastics Pollution on South Soko Island, Hong Kong

Yesterday I went to the remote Sokos Islands of Hong Kong to check out the plastics pollution there.

I had heard it was really bad. The islands are uninhabited and there is no ferry service. Two minutes is all it took for me to collect these 20 cigarette lighters to create this colourful shot. I needed a simple background, so I found a clean bit of beach to stand them up in a row like soldiers, but the rest of the beach was literally 'trashed'.

It took me less time to line up these plastic bottles. Most of them are made from PET plastic, which can be easily recycled. But not if they are washed up on a random beach somehwere. Many still have their tops screwed on which is how they managed to float to here, yet ironically most drink bottle tops cannot be recycled.

Sifting through the plastics garbage, certain categories present themsleves. One quirky category is plastic toys.

I love the toy panda. We are in South China after all.

Medical waste. An altogether more sinister category of marine debris collectables. Does anyone know where this stuff comes from? Ships? Hospitals? Unscrupulous medical waste disposal companies? If anyone knows, please tell me. I would love to investigate further.

Here's an overview of the whole beach. It looked pretty filthy to me, but apparently this South Sokos Island beach is much cleaner than the previous time Nico Zurcher visited it. 

Nico is a marine water management researcher from Hong Kong University who brought me there. He's been studying this beach over time for his MSc. The main problem is that the South Sokos Island beach is not 'gazetted' by the Hong Kong Government. Most gazetted beaches in Hong Kong get lifeguards, water quality monitoring (e coli etc), shark nets, showers, changing rooms - and regular cleaning. Back in the 1960's this beach would have been pristine. It would not have needed cleaning. Discarded plastics in all their different shapes and sizes really are a huge problem.

No story on marine plastics pollution would be complete without the obligatory and ever-present nurdles.

I've talked about them before on this blog, and I'm not going to get started on them now, so for the full story on these poisonous little horrors, ('pre-production plastic pellets', as they are officially known), check out my 'Hong Kong Nurdles' post from last year.

But as kind of an aside, I am instead re-posting this photo of a worker operating a plastics extrusion machine in China. Of all the places nurdles end up, this is the only real intended destination for nurdles - not remote beaches.

I found some ants who had made their home in a pile of polystyrene foam.

I also found one dead finless porpoise. We contemplated slicing it open to check for nurdles, but then thought better of it as the stench was terrible.

It's impossible to say what killed this finless porpoise. One shouldn't speculate too much, but maybe it got hit by a passing Macau ferry. Or maybe it ate one too many nurdles. Or perhaps the pesticides flowing down the Pearl River from the Guangdong industrial farms killed it. Or the e-waste dioxins and PCBs that flow into the sea from the Lianjiang River which runs through Guiyu.

Or it could simply have just died of old age.

ALEX HOFFORD : HONG KONG CHINA PHOTOGRAPHER

All images and text © Alex Hofford / Image Solutions Ltd. 2011 | Web design in Hong Kong by Ugli © 2011