Marine Plastics Pollution on Shek O Beach, Hong Kong

The sea in Hong Kong is always filthy after a typhoon. Here's a washed up nylon fishing rope covered in goose barnacles.

Typhoon Goni left our shores two days ago. The aftermath was that tons of plastic trash was scattered all over the beach in Shek O. The problem is that careless people drop trash. That trash gets washed down rivers and storm drains all over China and beyond before it joins other bits of teeming plastic garbage floating around in the world's oceans. It also frequently gets dropped off the side of boats and ships by people who don't know better.

Some of it comes from Japan.

Some of it is from Thailand.

Most of it is from mainland China.

And some of it comes from McDonald's. I'm not lovin' it. Are you?

Here's a colourful, yet nightmarish, tangle of seaweed, fishing line and synthetic fibre string. Perfect for strangling a dolphin.

Some of it will get cleaned up by contract workers being paid with my tax dollars.

Some of it may get sucked into the ‘North Pacific Gyre’. This week, a group of marine scientists from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California in San Diego departed to the ‘North Pacific Gyre’, an enormous area of the Pacific Ocean between the United States and Asia. Their aim is to study plastic debris accumulating across hundreds of miles of open sea dubbed by some as the 'trash vortex'.

A research boat carrying a team of 30 scientists, researchers, technicians and crewmembers embarked on the three-week voyage to learn how plastic trash in the ocean is affecting marine life. Project Kaisei in Hong Kong is involved. Click here to find out more, or contact Doug Woodring (doug at

Apart from the harm to sea birds and reptiles, such as albatrosses and turtles, caused by eating bits of plastic mistaken for food that look like this:-

 and this, because it looks like squid to a sea bird:-

…the Scripps mission will try to discover if small particles of broken down plastic trash could carry other pollutants, such as agricultural pesticides, far out to sea.

They will also try to determine whether marine micro-organisms attached to the fragments of floating plastic could drift over a long period of time to distant coastlines and thus become invasive species.

The scientists will also look into the possibility that carcinogens found in plastics ingested by marine organisms can enter the food chain, thus tainting seafood, ultimately posing a threat to us humans.

But fear not. Back in Shek O, here come the Hong Kong Government contract cleaners from Lapco working for the Leisure and Cultural Services Department. My tax dollars hard at work.

It's a good thing we have these fine folk around.

We humans would wade up our waists in filth like rats given half a chance, but throw some money at the problem and it’s fixed.

Let’s be happy because our beach will be clean again, the problem is solved. Except it’s not. Our coastline is vast and stretches for thousands and thousands of miles, but Shek O beach is only 250 yards long.

These ladies do a great job.

But it's just a drop in the ocean.

A sign at the beach office warns bathers of the likelihood of pollution after a period of heavy rain like we have just had. No outrage. Just calm civil service words that effectively normalize a situation that is disgraceful, yet somehow expected by most Hong Kong people in these apocalyptic times. Kids grow up thinking it's normal. It's called shifting baselines.

And now for the glaringly obvious part; if people bothered to dispose of their trash properly would we be in the sad situation that we are in now with our dirty beaches and poisoned oceans? It's not that hard is it?

Hong Kong Doggy Dial-A-Dinner

Only in Hong Kong!

That's a phrase you hear quite often around here. Got money to burn? Well why not dial-a-doggy-dinner for your favourite pampered pooch?

I thought I had seen it all. From doggy pushchairs and doggy birthday cakes to doggy cappuccinos and doggy acupuncture, it's all out there in the Big Lychee.

But now one enterprising young lady in the Central mid-Levels has discovered a hitherto unexplored niche in the pet-pampering scene that I'm sure will do very well.

Although she's only been going for two weeks now, Jennifer Chan of 'Wahfugu' has set up the ultimate canine catering business for those too rich, lazy or vain, (or all three), to open a can of Pedigree Chum.

On the gourmet doggy dinner delivery menu are such gastronomic delights as Chicken & Egg Rice, Pak Choi with Minced Pork Rice, Pak Choi with Minced Pork Pasta, and Beef with Chicken & Vegetable Pasta.

Charging local cha chan teng take away prices for her dog food that is actually fit for human consumption, Ms Chan is onto a winner, so watch this space. It might be a bit bland for me though, as all of Ms Chan's creations contain no salt, herbs, spices or MSG that can potentially upset poor little Fido's delicate constitution.

A few local celebrities that I can't name here are already on her list of clients. Don't Hong Kong peope just love a new thing!?

Oh, and don't ever bring up the topic of people starving on the horn of Africa. Or people sleeping on the streets of Kowloon for that matter. We don't pass those kind of judgments in Hong Kong, do we? If it makes money it must be good.

£24,500 per square metre. That's what luxury property at 'Severn 8', The Peak, Hong Kong costs.

Two weeks ago 'The Guardian' did a story on how the global financial crisis has affected those at the very top. They said that, on average, the world's glitziest luxury property has only dipped by around 12% in the past year.

At the end of the article was an interesting league table in which they listed the top 10 most expensive streets in the world measured by price per square metre. Hong Kong's very own Severn Road came in at number 8. (For the record, Monaco's Avenue Princesse Grace came in at number 1 with a staggering £73,000 per square metre).

OK I'm not implying anything at all here, but last week I was asked by a certain photo agency to go and shoot whatever I could get of luxury property on Severn Road for another British newspaper (which I can't name here). It seems that they really liked The Guardian's piece and wanted to do their own story.

Being up to date with the news on Hong Kong property due to my own vested interests, I knew that I had to get shots of Sun Hong Kai Properties 'Severn 8' development which, no prizes for guessing, is at the (auspicious for some) number 8 Severn Road. The development is on The Peak, which was once favoured by colonial era Brits for being cooler than down along the tram tracks at grunge level Hong Kong. According to The Guardian, a house at 'Severn 8' only costs £24,500 per square metre. Exiled Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra bought a place here in 2007. And recently fung shui maestro Tony Chan put his House 3 at 'Severn 8' up for sale at a price lower than the market price.

There was no way the security guard at 'Severn 8' would ever let me in, though I did try to blag it. So, like a pap, I scrambled through wet jungle and all the way along the exterior perimeter fence, none of which, by the way, is against the law in Hong Kong. This is also why I ended up with mosquito bites and jungle scratch marks all over my shins and ankles. (I did, however, see a couple of nice looking spiders. They had tiny white bodies and very small white feet and legs as thin as human hair so you could hardly see them. Alas they were too quick to get a shot of to post here. Not to mention I was hardly in the mood for shooting natural history stuff, as by the time I saw them I was dripping in sweat and cobwebs and ready to leave).

So here's what the most expensive property in Hong Kong looks like, anyway.

Another angle. Note the killer view of the Hong Kong skyline from the infinity pool.

And here's a different view of 'Severn 8' from the top of the Bank Of China Building in Central, (bad weather, bad light).

 And here's that list in it's entirety, courtesy of The Guardian:-

The world's top 10

1. Avenue Princesse Grace, Monaco, £73,000 per sq/m

2. Chemin de Saint-Hospice, Cap Ferrat, South of France, £61,000 per sq/m

3. Fifth Avenue, New York, £44,000 per sq/m

4. Kensington Palace Gardens, London, £40,000 per sq/m

5. Avenue Montaigne, Paris, £33,000 per sq/m

6. Via Suvretta, St Moritz, Switzerland, £27,500 per sq/m

7. Via Romazzino, Porto Cervo, Sardinia, £26,000 per sq/m

8. Severn Road, The Peak, Hong Kong, £24,500 per sq/m

9. Ostozhenka Street, Moscow, £21,000 per sq/m

10. Wolseley Road, Point Piper, Australia, £17,000 per sq/m

Hong Kong Cosplay Kids

Over at  'Ani-Com & Games Hong Kong' things are little strange if you're not familiar with the world of 'anime' and 'manga'. Which I'm not.

Once a year Hong Kong kids get together to go crazy on the latest in the world of comics and plastic figurines. It's easy to imagine why. Hong Kong teens are mosly cooped up in tiny flats in public housing. The kids with fertile imaginations let them run riot in the (mostly Japanese-inspired) world of super heroes and cartoon characters, whether that be in 'graphic novels' or computer games, or both. Going outside gets tedious, you see, when everything costs money, is covered in concrete, and the weather is too hot and polluted. It's just so easy to shut the world out with a comic or PSP.

But isn't the real world an odd enough place as it is without having someone else dream up a pantheon of wierdoes with big fluorescent hair-dos, capes, weapons and frilly bits for you?

One only has to read the news on any given night to see that fact is so often much stranger than Edwardian fiction. Especially in Hong Kong.

But it's all harmless fun, and the Cosplay kids were having a whale of a time down at the Convention Centre today.

I usually have a strict policy on the old Winston Churchill, but today I decided to let it slide for once. Spot the geek in the background.

This one is reminds me of chicken teriyaki, chop suey or that stupid chopsticks font. Too much.

The rather breathless-sounding Ani-Com press release was very keen to let the world know (in large bold font no less), that "the total number of visitors for today is 156,000, comparing to the figure last year, it has been increased by 5.4%".

So there you have it. I put that down to the ever-present pseudo-models, don't you know.


If this stuff really grabs you, there's more than you can shake a stick at in my Hong Kong Cosplay album in the Portfolio section of this site.


(Time for a bit of housekeeping >>> I've had a few people berating me for not 'keeping your blog up to date'. It seems the last post was on the 25th July. Well, I've decided that the way it's going to be is if I've got nothing interesting to say or no interesting photos to show, there'll be no blog entry. If I'm busy or having fun, expect colour. But I'm certainly not going to make myself a slave to this thing. I think it's pointless 'updating' it for no reason. Nuff said.)


In Hong Kong, Sex Sells

I went to the Hong Kong Book Fair yesterday to cover a tattoo event. Except I got the wrong day. Duh. Yesterday was the book signing part of the event by author Phat Chan who has compiled a really great book on tattoos called 'Tat Addicts'. But since I didn't want to shoot a book signing as they can be quite boring for pix, I decided I would come back the next day - which is now today. Later there will be a live tattoo artist engraving (real and free) tattoos on the Book Fair crowd.

As I was leaving the book fair I passed a stand selling books by so called Hong Kong 'pseudo models'. These are picture books that look like soft porn, but aren't. The poses of the girls in the books are porno-ish, but their delicate bits are usually concealed by a bikini or a strategically placed ice cream or dribbling toothpaste or something. Or so I've read! This means that they can be sold openly and legally at the book fair, as under Hong Kong law the books are neither indecent nor obscene.

The reason I mention all this of is because there has been a huge outcry over the 'pseudo models' in the local press this week. The moral minority and the culture vultures are supposedly upset by the 'hijacking' of the Hong Kong Book Fair by these purveyors of smut with their pseudo models and their fans: hordes of hot-blooded teenage boys and taxi drivers. The Book Fair is seen by the local high brow crowd as the pinnacle of Hong Kong's annual cultural calendar.

Personally, I think the 'pseudo model' phenomenon is just another fad like so many others in Hong Kong, and it will go away by itself. The real issue at stake is that they be allowed to attend the book fair in keeping with Hong Kong laws protecting the freedom of the press, but perhaps they could have their own 'Category 3' area, or something.

As I left the Book Fair in the afternoon I walked through Wan Chai on the way to the MTR. I passed these ladies in plying their trade in broad daylight.

Like I said, sex sells.

The Hong Kong skyline is looking crystal clear after the typhoon.

Beautiful day today!

I was on my way to a job today, going along Magazine Gap Road when I saw the skyline was wonderfully clear after the typhoon which had just passed. I told the taxi driver to stop so I could grab a few stock shots. A small vignette from my daily life in Hong Kong...

Hong Kong Trade

This is what this town is really all about.


I was lucky enough to be invited to a ceremony a few weeks ago where they joined together the two bridge spans of the Stonecutter's Bridge at the port at Kwai Chung. I forget what the exact geo-technical engineering term for that is. Lucky because it gave me the chance to shoot some great stock of the port, (which I have yet to upload to my site), but not to shoot the pointless white elephant that is the bridge to nowhere (Ting Kau to Sha Tin link - I think??). The official ceremony was pretty standard. Dull suits from the Transport Department and fat contractors making boring speeches, patting each other on the back and shaking hands with each other extremely vigourously. And then the MC said what they always say: "And now I would like to ask Mr So-and-so to come up to the stage to say a few words." I wish someone would tell the PR companies around here to brief their 20-something-girl-in-a-black-skirt-suit-with-a-wireless-mic not to say the phrase "bla bla bla say a few words..."? I've lost count of the amount of times I have heard it at functions and events in Hong Kong and now it really grates on me. Note to PR companies putting together an event for  a client: be original!

Oh, and there's an economic downturn, so ocean container shipping firms are lowering rates because of slumping revenues in the first quarter of 2009.


The air pollution in Hong Kong is bad today

After a few glorious days of clean air:-

we are back to this:-

The top image was photographed at: 7pm on 15 July 2009.
The bottom image was photographed today: 10am on 18 July 2009.

The top image may look good, but looks can be deceiving. Roadside air pollution at street level is filthy everyday. Admittedly comparing the two images is unscientific as both images were taken at different times of day - evening and morning. But that doesn't matter, as the difference is plain to see.

Can anyone see Victoria Peak in today's image? Can anyone spot Lantau island? I don't think so.

According to the Hong Kong Observatory there is a typhoon on it's way to Hong Kong right now, so that's why the air is so still and filthy. It's supposed to hit sometime on Sunday. I have a helicopter photo shoot that is dependent on the weather lined up for sometime in the next week or two, so I'm hoping the typhoon will clean up the air again soon. The client wants beauty shots of the harbour, so I have a financial interest, if not just a health interest, in radical improvements to regional air quality.

For a picture of the true cost of air pollution to Hong Kong visit the Hedley Index.

For more information about what you can do to help out, visit the Clean Air Network.


* * * STOP PRESS * * *

It's 1pm and it's even worse now:-

E-waste 'recycling' in Guiyu, China - 01

I've had a lot of interest in the 'China e-waste' album in my portfolio which you can find on the first screen of the portfolio page, ninth album along.

So today I decided to upload more photos from a recent trip to Guiyu, the 'e-waste processing capital of China', that I made as part of a field project for my MJ course at the University of Hong Kong's JMSC. I have put these photos at the back of the album, behind the photos from Guangxi Province and Hong Kong that I took in 2007 and 2008. I've posted a few of them here on the blog page, but if you want to see them in their full screen beauty just go to the Portfolio page, then click on the full screen icon which looks like this:

For those who are unfamilar, Guiyu is centred at the centre of the world's 'e-waste' processing industry. Illegal container loads of discarded electronic goods from the United States, Japan and Europe, find their way to China via the port of Hong Kong. Most of it usually ends up in Guiyu for 'recycling' at informal e-waste processing factories, of which there are around 3,000 in the town. Computers, printers, keyboards, CRT monitors, mobile phones, and other obsolete high tech junk can be seen in large piles strewn across Guiyu.

Much of the work is highly lethal. Migrant workers dip computer integrated circuit boards into vats of sodium cyanide to extract lead and precious metals, such as gold, silver and cadmium. This is by far the most poisonous and dangerous e-waste processing job of all, as most workers get sick from doing this job within a month. Many soon die. The waste solution can contain lead, dioxins or polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and is usually discarded by pouring the solution into the soil. It then leeches into the water table and the nearby Lianjiang River, leaving it severely poisoned.

The open burning of electronic items like printers and fax machines takes place on the banks of the river in Guiyu. This is so that metal components encased inside the items can be retrieved from their plastic shell for recycling. Obviously, this a less than ideal solution for the region's air quality.

The image quailty of some the photos is not great as I was shooting through a dirty windscreen most of the time (I never got out of the car is it's quite unsafe there), but I think the pictures speak for themselves.

With all the toxic lead and dioxins flowing into the tributaries of the Lianjiang River, which runs through Guiyu, I do wonder if the water in Hong Kong is safe to swim in. This is given the vast amounts of dioxins and heavy metals that flow into the sea at the river's estuary near Shantou, Guangdong Province, which must occasionally wash southwards towards Hong Kong on the ocean currents.

Basel Action Network seem to be the most active NGO on this issue. Check out their website here.

Hong Kong Cemetery

It was a 'slow news day' in Hong Kong, so I decided to pay Hong Kong Cemetery a visit.

I've gone past it many times, either going to or coming from the south side of Hong Kong island, as it is by the entrance of the Aberdeen tunnel in Happy Valley. The cemetery, with all it's decaying white marble statues of angels and overgrown banyan trees, has always exerted a fascination over me, in much the way the Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris still does. Some parts of the cemetery are definitley a bit like Angkor Wat meets Père Lachaise.

The Cemetery is divided up along ethnic and sectarian lines. I visited the St Michael Catholic Cemetery and the Muslim Cemetery.

The lady in the office was struggling to read the swirly English handwriting in the dog-eared 1944 death register, so that she could transcribe it into Chinese, then type it into the computer, presumably to put the whole lot online. I helped her to decipher the word 'Giovanni' for her. I was surprised, given the Hurculean-sized job that she had been given, that she spoke no English at all.

The Muslim Cemetery around the corner was fascinating. Many people don't realise that Hong Kong has quite a sizable Muslim community, due to it's colonial past.

But I saw no snakes.

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