Commentary by Gary Stokes, Sea Shepherd Hong Kong
Following the aftermath of Typhoon Vincent this week, the worst typhoon to hit Hong Kong in 15 years, hundreds of 25kg plastic sacks filled with pre-production plastic pellets (aka Nurdles) produced by SINOPEC Petroleum Hainan are now washing up on the beaches of Hong Kong. Tracey Read of the local environmental group DB Green made the discovery on Wednesday July 25th, 2012 and alerted Sea Shepherd Hong Kong to this disaster. Tracey has just returned from the 5 Gyres Algalita expedition, tracking the tsunami debris and plastic pollution across the Pacific.
So far we have discovered 250 plus sacks, of which approximately 50% have spilled their deadly contents into the ecosystem. This is the equivalent of a SOLIDIFIED OIL SPILL. Each sack contains approximately 1 million pellets. The 250 sacks were all on our local beach, we have put out a call to action asking ocean lovers all over Hong Kong to visit their local beaches and check them for these "white plastic sacks of death," and if found to report them to Sea Shepherd Hong Kong who are working with local authorities on the cleanup operation.
The biggest problem is that this material absorbs toxins and pollutants, turning it a yellowish brown color. The darker the pellet becomes the more toxic it is. Small fish, birds, and even large filter feeding species such as whales, whale sharks, and manta rays eat these pellets, mistaking them for fish eggs. Once eaten, the animals become toxic and often die. Bigger fish eat the small fish and this continues up the food chain, spreading the toxicity into seafood that will end up on our tables for human consumption.
After contacting the local Hong Kong authorities, (FEHD, Marine Dept, EPD and the local resort management of HKR) the full sacks we found have been safely removed. The remaining pellets are strewn along the coastline and cleanup has begun, but much will sadly remain in the ecosystem.
Captain Charles Moore PhD (hon.) an expert in the study of plastics and author of the book Plastic Ocean, commented on the Hong Kong spill….
“Worst nurdle spill I've seen documented. It is now illegal in California to spill nurdles and six-figure fines are being levied.” - Capt. Charles Moore PhD (hon.)
SINOPEC sent their Senior Management to meet with Sea Shepherd Hong Kong and inspect the sites yesterday. They have taken the batch numbers and serial numbers so that they may help us establish who was in possession of these sacks at the time of the typhoon.
The Hong Kong Harbour Master has confirmed that three 40ft containers were washed overboard from a vessel to the south of Lamma Island. These containers have been recovered and are in a storage facility in Tsing Yi. Two of the containers were found with their doors open. We have requested of the Harbour Master to allow us to inspect the remaining contents to establish how many sacks may have escaped into the ocean, and also requested that they speak with the shipper to find out if each container was full at the time. Details to follow upon investigation.
Sacks are now being found on other beaches in Hong Kong, update to follow…