Mother's Choice

Recently I was asked to shoot some pictures for Mother's Choice, a Hong Kong charity.

Mother's Choice is a 25 year old Hong Kong charity that provides care for Hong Kong-born babies and children seeking adoption.

They also provide care and support to single, young women facing crisis pregnancies, and their families.

Around 350 volunteers of all different nationalities take turns in caring for the babies and children.

Part of the brief was that I was not allowed to depict any of the childrens' faces, to ensure their privacy.

Last year 48 children left the centre for adoption.

However 12 children with special needs are still waiting to be adopted overseas.

Baby clothes are donated.

At some point, I would like to go to the centre for young girls to take photos there too.

Click here to donate to Mother's Choice.

ALEX HOFFORD : HONG KONG CHINA MOTHER'S CHOICE PHOTOGRAPHER

Silky Sharks in the Pacific Ocean

After reporting on the horrors of shark finning for so long, it's great to get out to the blue waters of the Pacific ocean to shoot some beauty images of live sharks, for a change.

These are silky sharks that like to hang about near industrial 'fish aggregating devices', or FADs, on the high seas of the Pacific ocean.

The fish that swim alongside them are rainbow runners.

Silkys like to swim near the surface.

I found them to be gentle, curious and strangely canine-like in their behaviour.

Swimming near a FAD is not a good place for a shark to be.

Coming to a bowl of soup at a Chinese restaurant near you soon!

ALEX HOFFORD : HONG KONG CHINA PACIFIC OCEAN SILKY SHARK PHOTOGRAPHER

Let's Occupy Oceans! A Guest Blog for Greenpeace...

Below is my un-edited guest blog that I did for Greenpeace. Its 'harmonized' version can be seen on the Greenpeace site, here.

Blogpost by Alex Hofford, photographer on board the 'MY Esperanza', Defending our Pacific ship tour 2011.

© Greenpeace / Alex Hofford Crew members of the 'Jing Lu Yuan No005' are seen hurriedly stuffing dried shark fins into bags and rushing below deck to remove them from view.

Currently I’m on assignment for Greenpeace as the photographer on board the ‘MY Esperanza’ as part of the ‘Defending the Pacific‘ tour 2011. I arrived at the ship from my adopted home, Hong Kong, about two weeks ago, expecting the worst. Having done two previous ship tours in 2006 and 2009, I knew well that things can get dirty and bloody out here in the Pacific on a Greenpeace oceans campaign. And that’s not just the politics of the fishing industry. However nothing could prepare me for what I have seen this week.

© Greenpeace / Alex Hofford A shortfin mako shark is hacked to death on board the mainland Chinese longline fishing vessel 'Jing Lu Yuan No005'.

On Monday, along with a group of activists from Greenpeace, I boarded a small Taiwanese long line fishing vessel, the ‘Ming Maan Shyang No20′ which was fishing in the international waters bordering Micronesia. The boat was ostensibly targeting tuna, but the freezer was more than 51% full of sharks. Included in the catch was an oceanic white tip shark, which, according to the United Nations (UN) International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) ‘Red List of Threatened Species’ is listed as ‘vulnerable‘. It is incredible to think that 51% of their cold storage was being used up for so-called ‘bycatch’, with even threatened species listed in their catch logs.

Worker welfare was on my mind too, as the Philippine and Indonesian crew members were keen to show me their painful calloused hands, injured by handling industrial fishing gear with little protection. They also showed me their deformed toe-nails, damaged from endless weeks of wearing gum boots sloshing with sea water inside. It’s common practice for the richer distant water fishing nations like Japan, South Korea and Taiwan to use impoverished labour from the poor countries of Asia and the the Pacific region. Their own citizens would never put up with the terrible working conditions endured by the workers that I have encountered this week from developing nations like Vietnam, Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, Philippines, and Vanuatu.

As seen through the prism of the global Occupy movement, it has been with this political dynamic in mind that I have seen how the rich fishing corporations of the distant water fishing nations represent the 1%, and how these workers earning pittance wages represent the 99%.

With that in mind I set off the next day to document a second long line fishing vessel, this time from China. It was the turn of the ‘Jin Lu Yuan No005′ to get an early morning surprise visit from Greenpeace, but this time it would be by helicopter. Upon arrival, I managed to photograph the crew hurriedly stuffing dried shark fins into bags and rushing below deck to remove them from our view. Something tells me they had a guilty conscience. Later that day I returned to the ‘Jin Lu Yuan No005′ to board it along with some Greenpeace activists. The captain denied all knowledge of our early morning encounter. Not only did he refuse to show me the bags of shark fin that he had removed from the roof earlier in the day, but he had the gall to counter that the crew had eaten it all for lunch. Incredulous, and knowing that I had encountered the brick wall that I know so well from other fisheries investigations in China, I spent the remaining time on board his vessel bearing witness to scenes of industrial brutality and butchery.

This included the demise of a mature mako shark that had probably taken thirty or so years to reach adulthood. If Greenpeace had not been present on board, it would for sure have had it’s fin sliced off. But instead the Chinese captain made it clear over the PA system of the boat to the poor crew member from the small Pacific nation of Vanuatu that he should not slice off the fins off the shark whilst we were around. Instead the worker from Vanuatu was instructed to just cut off the shark’s head, slice it’s body open to extract the guts, then chuck it into the ship freezer.

All for what? A bowl of soup in Mainland China, Hong Kong or Taiwan?

At the root cause of shark finning lies greed, consumerism and the current, somewhat creaky, economic model of global capitalism.

For many Chinese that climb out of poverty into the middle class, a shark fin dinner for friends and family is de rigeur. And let’s not forget that shark fin was traditionally a dish reserved for the 1%. Or that as the scarcity of sharks fin increases, so does its price, and ironically, its desirability. I believe that the shark fin issue has become the ‘elephant in the room’ in the wider arena of fisheries issues in the Asia Pacific region, since it has become increasingly clear that longline fishing boats are now targeting sharks as well as tuna.

Of course there is no proof. The industry is murky, catch logs can be fudged, and organized crime and corruption are never far away. But from anecdotal evidence gathered over the years by Greenpeace, it would certainly seem that sharks, not tuna are indeed the new target species. Take for example the shocking photos seen on my fellow co-author and photographer Paul Hilton’s blog, which show that the shark fin industry in Taiwan is not only alive and well, but positively thriving. Runaway seafood consumption patterns around the world, especially in Mainland China, are clearly out of control – and this is driving sharks to the brink of extinction. The other theory is that the boats are now targeting sharks as stocks of tuna have already been seriously depleted. It’s hard to say, but in all likelihood it is probably a combination of both factors.

This is why I have been trying to fuse in people’s minds the links between the current ‘Occupy’ movement of political protests that are sweeping the globe, and the environmental destruction that is going on daily in our oceans. At any given moment, somewhere in the Pacific ocean, thousands of purse seiners with highly destructive hi-tech fish aggregating devices, or FADs, are scooping out untold amounts of skipjack and yellowfin tuna to fill the daily sandwiches of the lunchtime office crowds in the West. And thousands of longline fishing vessels, operating with hundreds of thousands of miles of strong plastic lines and millions of hooks, are hunting twenty-four hours a day, 365 days a year in oceans around the world so that consumers in countless restaurants in Asia can dip bite size chunks of yellowfin and bigeye tuna into wasabi and soya sauce mixes.

So who profits from this greed? Certainly not the Pacific Islanders, the 99%, most of whom are steeped in poverty despite their various governments granting fishing licenses to the distant water fishing nations of Asia. Take Papua New Guinea as an example, where the Greenpeace ship which I am aboard has just come from. Its capital Port Moresby is famous for rampant poverty, car-jackings, rape, murder, muggings and very poor healthcare. Except for the exploited fishermen who work on board the boats and in its foreign-owned tuna canneries, the vast majority of the people of Papua New Guinea are not seeing the economic benefits of a foreign fishing industry running amok in its own territorial waters.

Its obvious to me that the root causes of the current crisis in our oceans are indeed the same root causes that the Occupy movement is protesting against. From Cairo to New York, Kuwait to Hong Kong, ordinary people are waking up politically to the awareness that global capitalism, corrupt politicians, corporate greed and environmental destruction are holding them back from a better life. So it is for the protesters outside the stock exchange in London, so it is for the voiceless tunas and sharks of the world’s oceans.

But there has been some progress on the legislative side to ban the sale and possession of shark fin – especially in the United States. And even though Taiwan enacted its own shark fin law earlier this year which binds fishing companies to land the whole shark along with the fins, like on the ‘Ming Maan Shyang No20′ that I boarded on Monday, it unfortunately does not go far enough. It’s a common misconception that if the whole shark is landed and the meat of the body is consumed as food, that this is somehow OK. At the current rate of depletion, it makes no difference whether or not the whole body is used. Industrial fishing is wiping out the sharks faster than they can reproduce. Body or fin alone, the practice is unsustainable and that’s the problem. What’s needed are for the governments of Asia to be bold and enact legislation to ban the sale and possession of shark fin firmly modeled on the bold laws signed this year by the US states of Hawaii, Oregon, Washington and California.

© Greenpeace / Alex Hofford 'Sharkette' activists from Hong Kong Shark Foundation handing out flyers in Hong Kong's busy Mong Kok district.

I’ve been personally involved in shark conservation since 2006. First with the ‘Man & Shark‘ project and ongoing shark fin investigations in the region, then more recently with a newer NGO, the Hong Kong Shark Foundation. With some success for over five years now, we have been trying to stem the demand for shark fin in Hong Kong and China. It’s a tough gig, but we try to win over school kids, university students and the general public. We also target the Hong Kong and China governments, industry groups, chambers of commerce, hotels, restaurants and other NGOs to support us. With our books, our short films, indy band gigs,petitions, shark flash-mobs, shark freeze-mobs and shark plank-mobs, we try to win over the souls of Chinese everywhere. But what Greenpeace is doing in the Pacific is of equal importance, because instead of targeting demand, the presence of Greenpeace in the Western and Central Pacific ocean is critical to ensure that the supply side does not collapse. No one is out here to monitor the environmental crimes being committed on a daily basis, in the huge expanses of blue desert that is the Pacific ocean. Only Greenpeace is doing that. Of the Pacific island nations that have a patrol boat, fuel is often an issue, as are the huge distances and other logistical problems.

Scientists have pointed to a tipping point for sharks, with population numbers of some species crashing below 90% in some cases. Greenpeace is not against fishing per se, but they are campaigning for the establishment of a network of marine reserves and an end to overfishing. And that means an end to unlicensed, unregulated and illegal fishing operations in the Pacific.

Sustainability is key, for it’s a fact that shark finning and shark fisheries are unsustainable. It’s a common fear in the scientific community that if we allow the oceans to be raped and pillaged at current rates, it is conceivable that the delicate balance of the oceans could be thrown out of kilter forever. This would have potentially devastating consequences for at least 20% of humanity that live in poor coastal areas, for whom fish is their main source of protein.

It all boils down to the choice between sustainability (99%) or corporate greed (1%).

My message to the world is ‘Let’s Occupy Oceans!’

@alexhofford #occupyoceans

© Greenpeace / Alex Hofford A silky shark swims next to a fish aggregation device, or FAD, belonging to the 'Zhong Tai No2' fishing vessel from China.

ALEX HOFFORD : GREENPEACE CHINA TAIWAN HONG KONG SHARK FIN PHOTOGRAPHER

Papua New Guinea, China and the Pacific...

Just over two weeks ago I arrived in Port Moresby, the capital of Papua New Guinea, or, as the locals like to call it, PNG.

The city rates number 130 on an Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) 2004 list of the '130 Worst Places To Live On Earth'.

OK, old data, but you get the point. Car-jackings, rape, murder, muggings, poverty, poor healthcare, Port Moresby has them all - and in abundance too.

But I rather like the place. Despite the various NGO 'security protocols' put in place to prevent me from roaming the city to get some street scenes, I did manage to squeeze out this handful of pix taken 'shot gun-style' from a car passenger window.

I was under strict curfew - completely forbidden to leave 'the compound' unaccompanied for any reason, and under any circumstances.

I didn't argue. Crime here is as bad as they say it is, and car-jackings are rife.

In fact one guy working for the World Bank got car-jacked in his shiny SUV right by the hotel I had been having dinner at the night before. He wound up dead.

Yet Port Moresby has all of that Pacific Island grittiness that I love, but just can't put into words.

The place feels like an Asian Africa, if that makes any sense. The airport was interesting too, in its own way.

Here is Air Niugini's first ever plane - a Douglas DC-3.

But I didn't come here to explore the grittiness of Port Moresby, like this Chinese restaurant shot through the dark-tinted glass of a car window.

I came here to bear witness to environmental crimes being wrought daily in the Pacific. I flew here on assignment to join the Greenpeace ship 'MY Esperanza' which is touring the Pacific as part of their 'Defending the Pacific 2011' tour.

Tribal representatives from the surrounding areas of Port Moresby were more than delighted to welcome Greenpeace to their corrupt and crime-ridden land.

Greenpeace has been sticking up for indigenous rights here for a while now.

In fact the ship had just come back from defending traditional landowners in PNG's Western Province from illegal logging.

See my friend, colleague and fellow Greenpeace photographer Paul Hilton's pix of that campaign, here

One Greenpeace activist told me that triad gangs from Fujian Province in China are getting stuck in, sucking the forests dry of logs and and every other living thing that moves. They are setting up logging camps in the jungle where gambling, karaoke, prostituion and the consumption of endangered species are replacing traditional ways of life. Ways of life that are in harmony with nature, not against her. According to traditional landowners and the local media, in this hidden corner of the world, Chinese logging companies, with a little help from their triad friends, are acting with impunity.

For those readers who can't strain their eyes, the 'Post Courier', ran the photo above with a caption that reads: "Chinese logging ship Fu Tian was pictured loading logs yesterday at the log pond at Drina, West Pomio LLG in East New Britain Province. It is believed the ship has made eight trips out of Papua New Guinea already, despite an order put in place by former acting Prime Minister Sam Abal to stop operating until a commission of enquiry is completed. Picture: JOHN PANGKATANA". (It is interesting to note that the 'Post Courier' is one of two national newspapers in Papua New Guinea. The other one, 'The Nation', is owned by a logging company.)

Ah, China. When will she start behaving like a grown up? So to kick things off, here's a shot of the Chinese embassy in Papua New Guinea. Unsurprising if you know me, I'll be blogging more about China's role in the Pacific later.

And whilst we are on the subject of China - well Hong Kong actually - here's a shot I took of a Hong Kong-registered vessel carrying timber as we left port.

Not content with coming to PNG to rob the country of logs, this vessel is giving the locals a taste of good old Hong Kong-style marine air pollution. If you are going to do a land grab, why not make it a dirty one? This scene would not look out of place in Kwai Chung. And here's a closer crop...

Hong Kong is my adopted home. But at time like this, I sometimes feel ashamed to say so.

More on Greenpeace's PNG illegal logging campaign here.

ALEX HOFFORD : PORT MORESBY PAPUA NEW GUINEA GREENPEACE PHOTOGRAPHER

A Shark Conservation 'Plankmob' Event in Mongkok...

HONG KONG - Marine conservation activists and citizens perform the world's first 'plankmob' event to promote shark protection, Mongkok, Hong Kong, China, 25 September 2011.

A 'plankmob' is a cross between this year's internet craze 'planking', and a 'flashmob'.

According to the Hong Kong Shark Foundation, 73 million sharks are killed each year for their fins alone, which are used to make the infamous luxury dish favoured by Chinese, shark fin soup.

Planking is where individuals lie face down in an unusual position or location and post the photo on the internet. A flashmob is a group of people who assemble suddenly in a public place, perform an unusual and sometimes seemingly pointless act for a brief time, then disperse.

As apex predators at the top of the food chain, sharks play a vital role in maintaining the delicate balance of our marine ecosystems.

According to the 2010 United Nations International Union of Conservation 'Red List', over one third of all shark species are already threatened, or near threatened, with extinction.

The demand for shark fin soup is largely to blame.

“According to global trade figures, Hong Kong is still shark fin central, but the tide is definitely turning as more and more Hong Kongers realise that shark fin soup comes at a price our oceans cannot afford to pay”, said HKSF's Bertha Lo.

ALEX HOFFORD : HONG KONG CHINA SHARK FIN PHOTOGRAPHER

Hysterical Staff Greet Fans At Opening Of Apple's First Store In Hong Kong...

Now I like Apple products as much as the next guy.

But what I saw today at the opening of Apple first store in Hong Kong really made me wonder about what kind of a society we are living in.

Forty years ago they might have been shouting "Long live Chairman Mao!", and waving little red books.

Seventy years ago they might have been shouting fascistic slogans.

But today there are no ideologies left, and many religions, Islam apart, are on the ropes.

So what's left?

Bland, empty consumerism, that's what.

And though that too looks pretty shaky in most markets, it's still a strong force here in Asia. Especially here at the IFC Mall in Hong Kong's Central District.

So that's why today, Apple's geeky Hong Kong staff were instructed to chant the blandest slogan of all: "Apple, IFC! Apple, IFC!, Apple, IFC!".

And it was just the staff. Their incessant yelling designed to create the illusion of mass rapture. In fact, having had very little sleep, all the customers and fans I saw looked too bleary-eyed to shriek about consumer electronics. The 'blue shirts' having been hyped up into such a frenzy by their US superiors, looked like US team-building-meets-the-Red-Guards-meets-the-Hitler-Youth, all on hallucinogens. The collective larynges of the entire staff workforce as a marketing tool. Cheap and clever indeed. In fact the opening itself was not a frenzy as some media are portraying it as. Yes, the fans lined up overnight, but the only people I saw in a shrieking frenzy were the Apple staff. Non-Apple cultists remained calm overall.

Fanboys queued right around the block, as far as the ferry piers.

They waited all along the raised walkway.

And in the finest tradtion of the 'Great Hong Kong MacDonald's Hello Kitty Doll Promotion' of 1998, some slept overnight - waiting up to 36 hours in line.

The first 5,000 suckers to make it through the doors got a free iPhone 5!

No, that's a lie. They got a free... T-shirt.

Now that's what I call capitalism and consumer culture at its best!

See the Youtube clips below to see embarrassing scenes of Apple Hong Kong staff hysteria, (and a little forced American-style 'high-fiving' and bonhomie!).

 

 

 

ALEX HOFFORD : HONG KONG CHINA PHOTOGRAPHER

A Week In Endangered Wildlife Consumption In Hong Kong...

(HONG KONG - Thursday, 01 September 2011)  Here's a Chinese couple who have decided to take a stand against the consumption of endangered species at their wedding. Braving the dark mutterings of their parents and grandparents, Brenda & Ricky did the right thing yesterday, and banished it from their banquet altogether. Well done and congratulations for tying a shark-free knot!

(More about this happy couple will be posted soon at the Hong Kong Shark Foundation website.)

PASS

510

(HONG KONG - Wednesday, 31 August 2011)  But despite the best efforts of 'shark heroes' Brenda and Ricky, the trade is thriving. Here's a school of black tip reef sharks (minus their bodies), drying by the side of the street earlier this week in Hong Kong's Sheung Wan district. 

FAIL

510

(HONG KONG - Tuesday, 30 August 2011)  And it's not just sharks that are being wiped out. Congratulations to Hong Kong's Customs & Excise Department for intercepting this huge two ton haul of ivory on a ship arrived from Malaysia on Tuesday - 794 pieces in all. According to their spokesman, the smuggled ivory was worth US$13m and was concealed in a shipping container marked, "non-ferrous products for factory use". Well done Hong Kong Customs, keep it up!

PASS

The thing is, elephant ivory is listed on C.I.T.E.S.  If only all 440 species of shark were too. Currently, the only three shark species to be listed on C.I.T.E.S. are the great white shark, the basking shark and the whale shark. That leaves around 437 species of shark unprotected, and until they become protected under C.I.T.E.S. too, the Hong Kong Government will continue ignore this thorny issue. Imagine tons and tons of seized shark fin sitting alongside all that illegal ivory in a Customs & Excise warehouses in Hong Kong? That would be the day. But isn't it about time already...? 

ALEX HOFFORD : HONG KONG CHINA CITES SHARK IVORY ENDANGERED SPECIES PHOTOGRAPHER

Public Gorge on Critically Endangered Bluefin Tuna at the Hong Kong Food Expo

It's that time of year again.

The Japanese company Yashima Shoji Ltd is in town to promote the Mitsubishi conglomerate's huge frozen stockpile of critically endangered bluefin tuna at the Hong Kong Food Expo.

Seemingly unphased by the fact that, according to the IUCN Red List (international Union for the Conservation of Nature), their samples were akin to pieces of sliced panda, these gents seemed either too ignorant or blinded by greed to care.

And so the public gorged themselves on free samples of this utterly beguiling sashimi. Get it while stocks last. At the rate we humans are consuming it, that certainly won't be long. Some estimates say the bluefin tuna has about one year left before extinction.

"But it's so good!", one woman said. I see. So that makes it OK, does it?

Then Gary Stokes, an activist from the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society turned up. Who tipped him off? I have absolutley no idea.

A bit of a face off ensued. Security showed up. Tensions rose. A crowd gathered. Sampling stopped. Revenue streams were temporarily disrupted. A PR girl from the Hong Kong Trade Development Council became flusterred. A blockade began.

Seashepherd effectively shut the booth down for the rest of the day. No deals done, no bluefin tuna tasted.

And the pieces of endangered species were carefully removed from the display cabinet and put back in the freezer at the back of the booth. 

FINAL SCORE

Sea Shepherd Conservation Society 1-0 Japanese Marine Environment Gangsters

ALEX HOFFORD : HONG KONG CHINA BLUEFIN TUNA PHOTOGRAPHER

A Bad Week For Sony, A Bad Week For Us All...

Here's a photo by Reuters photographer Chris Helgren of a Sony warehouse in Enfield which was hit by the riots in London on Monday.

And here are a couple of my pictures of the Sony warehouse in Sendai, Japan, which got hit by the earthquake and tsunami back in March.

And here's a snapshot of the Sony stock price on the New York Stock Exchange since February, courtesy of Yahoo! Finance:-

This one company's destiny can be seen as an example of a wider malaise.

Natural disasters, markets in turmoil, unrest on the streets... where will all end?

ALEX HOFFORD : HONG KONG CHINA SONY PHOTOGRAPHER

PLA Military Summer Camp For Apathetic Hong Kong Kids....

I got up early today, as I fancied a bit of Communist flavour.

These Hong Kong secondary school students are at a passing-out ceremony today for a Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) military summer camp for the city's youth.

The military summer camp was started up five years ago to instill a greater sense of Chinese national identity in Hong Kong secondary school students who notoriously feel little or no love for the motherland.

Call it indoctrination or brainwashing, whatever you like, but I didn't see a single Hello Kitty doll or GameBoy the whole time I was there.

This city is changing. And fast.

ALEX HOFFORD : HONG KONG CHINA PLA PHOTOGRAPHER

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