The ultimate objectives of Coastal Watch Project are to develop a long-term solution to the marine litter problem, educate a broad segment of the Hong Kong public about our marine environment and then inspire and mobilize these people to take positive action to shape its future.
Teams of volunteers, led by Team Scientists and assembled by WWF-Hong Kong and our strategic partners – including green groups, local schools, the fishing community, diving enthusiasts and other stakeholders – will “adopt” a specific coastline site and commit to conducting cleaning and survey operations at that site twice a year.
Throughout the project period, each Coastal Watch site will have a lead group that will be “in charge” of the volunteer team(s) and act as the coordinator for that location. On the survey and cleaning days, one representative from the appropriate strategic partner organization will join the team to ensure that the operation proceeds smoothly, paying particular attention to the safety of the volunteers and the accuracy of the collected data.
Hong Kong’s amazing marine biodiversity includes approximately 1,000 species of marine fish and over 80 hard coral species – more than the entire Caribbean Sea! Regrettably though, our marine ecosystem is facing a barrage of threats and this biodiversity is deteriorating rapidly and drastically. Scientists have observed that local waters are close to ecosystem collapse; this will lead to disastrous effects for our marine biodiversity.
Fish stocks have already dropped severely due to unsustainable fishing practices. Inadequate regulations and a lack of marine protected areas continue to worsen the situation. Taking action to restore our marine ecosystem is the only way to prevent a widespread collapse of fish stocks and achieve sustainable fisheries in the long term.
We have chosen six marine habitats for this project: mangroves, mudflats, sandy shores (which are non-gazetted beaches), rocky shores, coral communities and coastal water areas (selected areas in the waters off Aberdeen and Cheung Chau Island). Through understanding the biodiversity and marine litter problem in these habitats, we hope to formulate practical solutions to conserve our marine environment.
A recent survey recorded 5,684 marine species in Hong Kong waters. Although Hong Kong takes up only 0.03 per cent of China’s total marine area, the number of marine species recorded in our waters is approximately 25 per cent of the total marine species in China. The number of marine species per unit area in Hong Kong is a few hundred times more than many other regions of the world, underlining the exceptional marine biodiversity in our waters.
(Source: Environmental Conservation Fund http://www.ecf.gov.hk/en/approved/201127.htmlnese )
The green turtle is the only sea turtle species which breeds in Hong Kong. An endangered species and legally protected in Hong Kong, they are extremely vulnerable to impacts from marine litter. Why? Because some types of marine litter like plastic bags can resemble jellyfish – one of their primary types of food. Ingestion of marine litter can harm or kill green turtles.
The majority of Hong Kong’s coral species are mainly found in the eastern waters. The shape and form of these corals are highly variable, and they form coral communities. These communities provide food and shelter to numerous marine organisms, and thus they have extremely high ecological value. However, coastal development, overexploitation and destructive fishing practices all have negative effects on corals.
Hong Kong is home to a number of rare and iconic marine species. The Chinese white dolphin is one of the most famous and recognizable, having been the official mascot for the 1997 Handover. However, in recent years, the dolphin population has been threatened by various human activities, leading to a serious reduction in their numbers in the past decade: about 62 individuals are now left in Hong Kong waters.
Mangroves grow in coastal environments with loose soil that are sometimes covered by tidal waters. These environments are not conducive to the growth of vegetation, but mangroves have adapted through several unique characteristics. Eight true mangrove species are found in Hong Kong, but pollution and urban expansion pose significant threats to each of these species.
The horseshoe crab is regarded as a living fossil as this crustacean has lived on Earth for over 300 million years. Here in Hong Kong, our Horseshoe crab population has dropped dramatically due to coastal development and pollution, but ironically these creatures can still be found – and eaten – at seafood restaurants.
Marine litter can be defined as all objects that do not naturally occur in the marine and coastal environment but are nevertheless found there. Marine litter may be deposited on a beach or coastline, float on the surface of the sea, float within the sea or sink to the seabed. Marine litter is a persistent problem in Hong Kong, since our 263 islands and 733 km of coastline are situated in one of the world’s most densely populated areas.
There are various form of marine litter produced by both land-based and sea-based activities.
60-80% of marine debris is generated from land sources. The main sources of this debris are littering, dumping in rivers and streams, and industrial mishaps or losses – such as the spillage of plastic resin pellets – during production, transportation and processing. They can be blown, swept or washed out to sea.
20-40% of marine debris originates from sources at sea. Debris sources include offshore oil and gas rigs or platforms, fishing boats, merchant ships, container ships, ferries and cruise liners. The debris can be dumped, swept, or blown off vessels and stationary platforms.
One of the most notable negative impacts from marine debris is wildlife entanglement. Numerous marine animals become entangled in marine debris each year. Entanglement can lead to injury, illness, suffocation, starvation and eventually, death.
© Martin Harvey, WWF-Canon
Many marine creatures, from sea turtles to seabirds and marine mammals, are known to ingest marine debris. The debris items may either be mistaken for food and ingested; an animal’s natural food (e.g. fish eggs) may become attached to the debris; or the debris item may be ingested accidentally with other food. Whatever the method of consumption, ingestion of debris may lead to loss of nutrition, internal injuries, intestinal blockage, starvation and even death.
© Jürgen Freund ,WWF-Canon
Marine litter can scour, smother, and otherwise damage important marine habitats such as coral reefs. Many of these habitats serve as the basis of marine ecosystems and they are thus critical to the survival of many other species.
Marine litter can also affect a society economically. The impacts of marine litter on marine resources, tourism, vessels and navigation, ecosystems and human health and safety are difficult to quantify, but each factor has costs associated with it. From unsanitary forms of debris to unsafe types such as broken glass in the sand, to large pieces of debris in navigable waters, marine litter is an undeniable threat to human health and safety.
Participating teams will conduct ecological surveys at their “adopted” site. The surveyors will create a species checklist for the habitats at the site, collect data on biodiversity, and take photographs. The survey methodologies are tailor-made for the different habitats.
A scientific survey of marine litter using an internationally-recognized methodology will be conducted. This survey will provide information on the rate of deposition, debris type and weight and any markings which will allow its source to be identified.
A survey of micro debris (between 1mm and 1cm in size) will be conducted according to existing National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) protocols. This survey will provide important information on the composition and rate of deposition of the micro debris.
After completing the surveys, the teams will remove the litter and debris from the sites. The litter will be sorted into recyclable and non-recyclable materials, and then packed into bags in different colour for recycling and disposal respectively.