As we near the end of the 16th annual Hong Kong Cleanup Challenge season, we are proud to share about a very special meeting that took place last week right here in Hong Kong.
As many know, Ecozine’s Hong Kong Cleanup has seen great success and growth since its humble beginnings in 2000, having engaged over 250,000 participants to date and cleaned over 22 million pieces of plastic and debris from our seas, shores and inland ecosystems.
Yet as well-loved and huge as it is locally, the HKC does not stand alone. On the contrary, it has long been part of a much larger global movement — Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Cleanup (ICC), which has to date engaged more than 11 million volunteers in 153 countries, and continues to grow and evolve with the shifting seascape of the giant problem of marine debris.
Now in its 30th year, the ICC brings committed organisations and individuals around the world, with the shared aim of addressing the huge global problem of marine debris.
It is in partnership with the ICC that we annually activate the citizen science aspect of our Cleanup Challenge, inviting our participants to collect and submit data about what they find at their cleanups, not only to develop our own local report but to contribute to the global Ocean Trash Index — the only one of its kind in the world.
As such, it was with great honour and pride that this year, Ocean Conservancy invited us to host the first-ever ICC Coordinators meeting to be held in Asia. On November 17th and 18th, we welcomed to Hong Kong many of our ICC colleagues from countries including the USA, Australia, China, Ecuador, Hawaii, Hong Kong, India, Japan, Philippines, Russia, Singapore, South Korea, and Thailand, for a solid two days of meeting, sharing, learning and strategising.
The aim was to develop better regional and global relationships, and to share best practices and learnings from each others’ challenges successes. As Hong Kong Cleanup Founder Lisa Christensen succinctly noted, “This is a golden opportunity to connect with our APAC neighbours and international network, to develop a more collaborative and focused approach to an issue that truly has no borders.”
Of course, you can’t host cleanup coordinators and not do a cleanup together! Thus, upon arriving in Hong Kong, our guests were taken to the now-infamous “Lap Sap Wan’ on Cape D’Aguilar, and bore witness to the astonishing amount of plastic and debris collected there, like so many other hard-to-reach and out-of-sight bays and inlets among Hong Kong’s 263 islands.
Many of the visiting coordinators had never witnessed such a stark illustration of the plastic problem facing our sea, and it was a sobering and humbling start to the week’s discussions. At the same time, it inspired us all to make the most of our time together.
Later that evening we hosted a cocktail party at The Cityview to welcome our international brigade of guests, with honoured guest speaker Ms. Christine Loh, Undersecretary for the Environment, sharing about her memories of the first cleanups to take place in Hong Kong, and how far we’ve come since then. Ms. Loh was joined onstage by Hong Kong Cleanup founder Lisa Christensen, Julia Roberson, Ocean Conservancy VP Communications; Chris Newman, representing sponsor Bank of America Merrill Lynch, and a special guest, Mr. Ric Anthony from the Zero Waste International Alliance, who highlighted that the way forward is, as always, finding better ways to address the problem at source.
The following two days of closed-door meetings were intense, eye-opening and inspiring for everyone involved. Presentations and breakout sessions drove conversation on topics as wide-ranging as data collection, fundraising and media support to crowdsourcing the group’s experience to identify the seemingly bizarre things that wash up on beaches from faraway places.
We had the privilege of learning about some incredible work being done in other parts of the world – such as in the Philippines, where an initiative called Net-Works allows impoverished coastal communities to create income and savings by harvesting and selling discarded and washed-up nylon fishing nets, which are then baled, shipped, recycled into yarn and made into carpet tiles in Slovenia.
Other tales came from farther afield, like in Australia, where marine debris NGO Tangaroa Blue encourages communities to collect data on what’s washing up on their beaches by instigating “data parties’ and developing local partnerships. The resulting data is used to drive campaigns and education for reduction at the source, with tangible results such as bans on plastic strapping bands and voluntary regulations on the plastic pellet industry.
The meetings highlighted that every cleanup effort, led by coordinators from different countries and regions, has its own unique environmental, cultural, and economic challenges and opportunities. Yet coming together and discussing our differences also served to reinforce the notion that, despite the vast geographical and other barriers between us, we are working as one, and there is a unifying thread among everyone who is, in various ways, part of this movement: a desire for change, and a refusal to give up and watch as our seas fill with toxic disposable plastic.
We were sad to see our new friends leave at the end of the two-day conference, but we have gained renewed inspiration as we go forward in our work, and we look forward to the next meeting – and above all, we at Ecozine take our hats off to the many passionate, committed individuals and organisations working on solutions to marine debris, all around our beautiful blue planet.