Hong Kong: Seafood, Tourism, and Severe Pollution
February 7, 2016
Environmental pollution in Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) is highly noticeable. Rapid urbanization, poor environmental education, and a lack of environmental law enforcement are some of the factors that incubated this issue. More specifically, In Sai Kung District, the lack of environmental law enforcement is observable, which encourages the pollution of its waterfront and forests simultaneously, fomenting a culture of littering and illegal dumping among the population. Hence, this environmental negligence endangers the flora and fauna of the region: fish, birds, mangroves, marine crustaceans and other species. Industry (essentially tourism, manufacturing, and textiles) represents approximately 7-9% of the region’s gross domestic product (GDP) and seafood catering; tourism; shopping; transportation; hospitality; and employment are pivotal subcategories of this branch of the economy. Therefore, the government of Hong Kong must take an incisive approach against the pollution issue; otherwise, the tourism industry could suffer a significant decline; impacting the livelihoods of a great part of the population and seriously affecting the economic development of areas such as Sai Kung District.
With a population of over 7.2 million and a territorial extension of 1,100 square kilometers, 41% of this territory is terrestrial and marine protected areas. Hong Kong is a service economy—services represent 93% of GDP. However, the tourism industry also plays a pivotal role. The direct contribution of travel & tourism to the GDP was HKD 204.6 billion ($27 billion), for a 9.0% share of total GDP in 2014. Travel & tourism directly supported approx. 363,500 jobs (9.7% of total employment).
Hong Kong has a myriad of environmental legislation covering everything from air pollution, water pollution, waste disposal, marine pollution, noise control, and hazardous chemical control. These ordinances are supposed to be enforced by the Environmental protection Department (EPD) which works under the government of Hong Kong and is in charge of prosecuting offenders who violate environmental laws.
Particularly, in the cases of the waste disposal ordinance (WDO) and marine pollution (dumping at sea ordinance), the waste disposal ordinance provides a comprehensive framework for managing waste from the point it arises to the point of final disposal, enforced by the EPD. This includes the production, storage, collection, treatment, recycling and disposal of waste. An offence is committed if waste is deposited in any place, except with lawful authority, excuse, or permission from any owner or any lawful occupier of the land concerned. Paradoxically, the severe pollution in Hong Kong—25% of sewage that flows into the Victoria Harbor is not treated and 15% of river stations have bad or very bad quality of water— exposes the weaknesses of these ordinances and suggests that these are not being implemented and are, in fact, being ignored. Hence, pollution and non-regulated fishing have had powerful adverse impacts upon water quality and coastal marine life.
The EPD states that: “Anyone involved in the dumping of waste at sea and related loading operations, requires a permit.” Notwithstanding, despite the explicitness of these laws and the autonomy that the EPD boasts, this department is only executing approximately 350 prosecutions per year for breaking environmental ordinances—394 prosecutions in 2010, and 309 in 2011. In more serious offences, involving dumping large waste loads, the EPD only convicted 62 cases, with penalties ranging from HK$1,000 ($128) to HK$25,000 ($3200). In smaller offences, such as littering, the government of Hong Kong states that residents dispose 16,000 tons of trash every day; the EPD reports that 28,825 people were fined for littering in the first four months of 2015, and 7,556 were handed a fine. The vast population of Hong Kong and the immense amount of litter in areas such as Sai Kung District are not concordant with the amount of prosecutions that should be executed per year, as this numbers are minuscule in contrast to the contamination of this city; therefore, the Environmental Protection Department is falling short with respect to protecting the environment and decreasing high levels of pollution.
The lack of environmental education is a serious problem in Sai Kung. A Chuen Kee restaurant manager named Janet explains that seafood is crucial in the economic dynamic of Sai Kung. Janet, a native Hong Konger, adds that there is a culture of pollution due to a lack of environmental education in society. She explains that due to the high levels of pollution in the coastal areas, Hong Kong has transitioned from a snorkeling haven to a kayaking city as tourists have become aware of contamination of the sea. “Hong Kong has transitioned from a Caucasian and Asian city to a multi-racial city, which reflects positively on the tourism industry and the economy; however, there are high levels of inequality. Keep in mind that everyone here was a farmer 200 years ago,” said Janet, trying to associate the inequality gap and the poverty factor with the poor environmental education displayed by locals.
Pursuing this further, a Little Cove Coffee Shop owner named Adam describes that recycling is not a concern to the environmental authorities of Hong Kong. He explains that trawling, pollution, bottom feeders, and unsustainable fishing are evident issues and that a profit-oriented market structure—unsustainable fishing—has overpowered the willingness of inhabitants to preserve a clean environment. “The animals are treated terribly in Sai Kung’s boardwalk, coastal beaches have disappeared due to pollution and sub-sequent climate change, environmental health is not a priority, and a lack of education among the population is perceivable. Most seafood is brought from the South China Sea; Philippines; and Vietnam to be exact. Some fish are brought from Alaska and Japan as the buyers, restaurant managers, and importers do not trust the quality of the seafood near Sai Kung’s waterfront due to the high levels of pollution,” Says Adam, who runs an environment-friendly coffee shop in Sai kung District.
Prof. Sidney Cheung from the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) echoes these sentiments as he explains that there is low demand for local seafood due to high levels of pollution, that laws are not strong enough in regard to protecting the environment, and that these laws are mostly focused on turning land into useful territory for construction projects. “The water disposed should be separated and treated cautiously by restaurants in order to avoid pollution. That is one of the reasons why seafood is mostly imported from Japan, Vietnam, China, Malaysia and Thailand. It’s because the sea around Hong Kong is not fishing friendly due to pollution,” says the anthropologist and fresh water fish-farming expert.
As an associate member of the Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping Wastes which covers not only accidental and operational oil pollution, but also pollution by chemicals, goods in packaged form, sewage, garbage and air pollution, the government of Hong Kong has a global, multi-lateral responsibility with respect to the protection of the environment. Furthermore, when one assesses the coastal area of Sai Kung District, the amount of garbage; litter; the nauseating odor; and testimonies from the local population and business owners, one realizes that regulations stated by this convention are not being enforced by the government of Hong Kong.
A chief executive is in charge of Hong Kong, who is under the jurisdiction of the central government in Beijing. Therefore, enforcing environmental laws in Hong Kong is an issue that must be addressed by the local government and the Environmental Protection Department. Hence, the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD), the Director of Environmental Protection, and the Environmental Protection Department (EPD) have the responsibility to enforce environmental regulations on fishing, trawling, littering, disposal of waste, ecological education and recycling.
The government of Hong Kong must begin enforcing its domestic environmental laws as well as the international conventions it has agreed to in order to reduce pollution levels, especially in critical areas such as Sai Kung’s waterfront. Law enforcement must play a pivotal role; it must hold the population accountable for their contribution to the pollution problem via implementing more drastic fines, prosecutions, imprisonments, and community service penalties.
Also, businesses, fishermen, and restaurants must play their role in maintaining a clean environment. A way to align them with the environmental laws is to create a taskforce under the Environmental Protection Department that is solely dedicated to supervising businesses, restaurants and fishermen with respect to waste disposal, water treatment, animal handling, and pollution in general.
Apart from handing out fines and prosecuting individuals, an ecological education program must be implemented to train the population on environmental matters in order to approach the pollution issue from its core. Hong Kong requires a robust ecological education program in order to enhance seafood and ecological tourism.
A fund that must be increased is the Sustainable Fisheries Development fund (SFDF). The fund aims to help the local fishing community move towards sustainable or high value-added operations so that the trade can enhance its overall competitiveness and cope with new challenges. This fund could be expanded to the general population. For example, in Sai Kung, ecological education programs can be fomented in order to enlighten the population vis-à-vis the consequences of pollution.
Additionally, a geo-tour experience can be sponsored in which locals and visitors can learn about nature and environmental regulations simultaneously. Also, individuals can be exposed to the nature of Hong Kong by receiving a voucher at any restaurant they visit valid to explore villages such as Hoi Ha Wan and Pak Sha O, as part of a combined seafood-ecotourism experience.
A collective grumble by Hong Kongers is that the culture of pollution is engrained in this society; therefore, environmental education is vital to remove this stigma and teach Hong Kongers about environmental hazards—especially those that affect the sea, rivers, and forests in which the general population is involved. In order to bring awareness and create conscience among the population, environmental laws must be applied and obeyed thus generating accountability and a sustainable environment.
If the population is trained on environmental education, laws, causes and the consequences of pollution, and the impact it can have on their lives, a reduction in the pollution problem can be expected over the next five years. On the other hand, if the pollution problem is not addressed assertively, the status-quo of this economy could shift unfavorably for Hong Kongers as pollution increases and tourism declines. A great part of the population will be submerged in poverty as the economy of the region worsens due to an unsustainable environment and mismanagement of natural resources.