Treasure for pirates, a bumper catch for fishermen, freedom for refugees and vitamin D for pasty tourists; Hong Kong’s coastline and the warm waters that surround it have long fulfilled various human needs. Away from the choppy waves and neon reflections of Victoria Harbour ebbs and flows another story of the city’s relationship with the sea. The pictures below tell part of that story.
Hong Kong banned trawling on 31st December 2012, in an effort to help restore the territory’s fisheries. On the boat pictured above and the larger boat it was working alongside, ten people (and one dog) laboured for an hour to let the net out and pull it back in again, an exercise they would have to repeat three or four times before they had caught enough fish to cover the cost of their fuel alone.
This lone footprint is embedded in a concrete path on Dai A Chau, one of the eleven Soko Islands in Hong Kong’s southwest. Originally home to a tiny fishing and farming community,* in the 1980s Dai A Chau was evacuated and converted to a refugee camp for Vietnamese boat people. The camp’s huts and fences have now been razed, but traces of the former inhabitants are scratched into the paths around the island, some proclaiming “Made in Vietnam”, while others are silent.
Along with containers full of goods, Hong Kong occasionally also receives strange tideloads of marine debris, from hundreds of shipwrecked computer monitors to tonnes of plastic nurdles. Non-gazetted beaches – those without shark nets, lifeguards and teams of cleaners – are frequently covered in rubbish. Some of this washes down the Pearl River from elsewhere, but much of it is generated inside Hong Kong.
Ap Chau (‘Duck Island’) lies just a kilometre from the coast of mainland China, which you can see in the background of the shot above. Populations are dwindling on Hong Kong’s smaller outlying islands, as the inhabitants move to more accessible places. Catering to daytrippers’ needs is now the mainstay of the island communities that remain, although I like to think that there are still some smugglers out there.
Without the happy accident of its long and beautiful coastline, Hong Kong’s history would have been dramatically different. While the manmade issues touched on above all affect the city to varying degrees, the tides and currents will continue to flow, typhoons will continue to buffet our shores and we will continue to be treated to magnificent sunsets like the one above. Whatever we might like to pretend in this city of air conditioning and shopping malls, Mother Nature is clearly still the boss…
* There is a wonderful short film about life on the Soko Islands during this period on YouTube, click here to see it.