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Oil Tanker Fire Near Hong Kong Kills 1, Potential Spill Could Threaten Endangered Turtles and Dolphins
An oil tanker caught fire off of Hong Kong's Lamma Island Tuesday morning, leaving one person dead and two missing.
"We could see that the victim who passed away had been burned," police representative Wong Wai-hang said in a briefing reported by The New York Times. "There were clear injuries on his head and fractures in his hands and feet."
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The fins from the endangered species were hidden within legal fins in a 989 kilogram (approximately 2,180 pound) shipment that traveled from Colombo, Sri Lanka through Singapore to Hong Kong, which is one of the largest shark fin trading centers in the world, AFP reported.
On the night of Aug. 3 two ships collided south of Hong Kong in the approach waters to the Pearl River Delta. According to information obtained from the Tradewinds News, the Japanese GMS chemical tanker Global Apollon and the Pacific International Lines containership Kota Ganteng had a collision but details remain very slim. Details of the damage is also unknown however the Kota Ganteng containership has since sailed onwards to Singapore. The Global Apollon remains at anchor in the waters near the Chinese Guishan Islands just to the South West of Hong Kong's Soko Islands.
The Global Apollon was carrying 9,000 tons of raw palm oil and a substantial (unknown) amount of this was spilt into the surrounding waters. The Guangzhou authorities dispatched nine vessels to assist and contain from reports we have seen, yet the Hong Kong government claim that they were not told of the spill until Aug. 5. By the time the Hong Kong government found out, large amounts of this palm oil began washing up on Hong Kong's southern beaches.
More than 9,000 tons of palm oil leaked from a cargo ship after a collision in mainland Chinese waters last week, prompting the closure of at least 11 beaches in Hong Kong, sightings of dead fish washing up on beaches and reports of rancid odors wafting from the rotting, congealed mess.
World Wide Fund For Nature (WWF) is calling for an urgent clamp down on international organized ivory trade syndicates, as customs officers in Kwai Chung, Hong Kong report their seizure of approximately 7.2 tonnes of ivory in a shipping container inbound from Malaysia, earlier this week. Forensic investigations are currently underway to determine the exact quantity and source of the illegal consignment, which was declared as frozen fish, and could be the largest in 30 years.
The oldest giant panda living in captivity was euthanized Sunday in Hong Kong after her health rapidly deteriorated over the past two weeks, according to officials at Ocean Park. She was 38 years old.
Jia Jia celebrates her 38th birthday at Ocean Park in Hong Kong.Ocean Park / Facebook
As her health declined, officials say Jia Jia's appetite dropped drastically. She went from eating 22 pounds of food per day to less than seven and her weight also declined.
"Over the past few days, she has been spending less time awake and showing no interest in food or fluids. Her condition became worse this morning. Jia Jia was not able to walk about without difficulties and spent the day laying down," Ocean Park said. "Her state became so debilitated that based on ethical reasons and in order to prevent suffering, veterinarians from the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department and Ocean Park agreed to a humane euthanasia for Jia Jia."
The average life expectancy of Jia Jia's species is under 20 years in the wild, and around 20 years under human care.
"This is a day we knew would eventually come, but it is nevertheless a sad day for everyone at the park," the park said.
Born in the wild in China's Sichuan province in 1978, Jia Jia, whose name translates as "excellence," was given to Hong Kong in 1999 where she served as an important animal ambassador for her species.
Park officials say their panda-related educational programs are the most popular among guests and students and have helped raise public awareness on the importance of protecting giant pandas and their natural habitat.
"We are proud of her contribution to conservation," the park said.
Jia Jia's species has been under threat of extinction due to development in China's Yangtze Basin region, the panda's primary habitat. However, recent numbers shows that conservation efforts are working.
In September, giant pandas' status was downgraded on the Red List of Threatened Species from "endangered" to "vulnerable" pointing to the 17 percent rise in the population in the decade up to 2014, when a nationwide census found 1,864 giant pandas in the wild in China, according to the World Wildlife Fund.
Due to the threats they face in the wild and their low birthrate, captive breeding programs have become key to ensuring their survival. During her time at Ocean Park, officials say Jia Jia gave birth five times to six panda cubs, according to Hong Kong Free Press.
The park plans to establish a memorial area beginning Oct. 22 for guests to pay tribute to their beloved animal ambassador.
A cleanup crew recovered 200 tons of trash from just 12 miles of Alaska's coastline around Prince William Sound.
Gulf of Alaska Keeper (GoAK), a nonprofit dedicated to picking up debris around the state, filled 1,200 "super sacks" and collected thousands of buoys, marine debris specialist Scott Groves said. The group spent a month at Montague Island and two weeks at Kayak Island to collect the trash, KTVA Alaska reported.
Groves, who was interviewed by KTVA after they were done collecting the trash, said, "It's such a pristine place out there also, so being able to fly over where we've cleaned and to see what we have done is a good feeling."
The 200 tons of trash was shipped to Anchorage on a barge. It took an entire day to unload the trash. Now, GoAK will spend at least 10 full days sorting the trash, enlisting more than 100 volunteers.
Groves hopes to pick out everything that can be recycled. He said as much as 80 percent of the total debris might be recyclable.
"With the amount of plastic everyone uses in today's age, a lot of what we find is single-use plastics," Groves said. "So just taking one water bottle and being able to reuse that again is huge."
The presence of plastics in the ocean is plaguing the world. A report completed by UK-based Eunomia Research & Consulting found 80 percent of the annual input of plastic litter comes from land-based sources. The remaining 20 percent are plastics released at sea, such as fishing gear.
Even worse, 94 percent of the plastic that enters the oceans ends up on the sea floor.
Alaska's coastline isn't the only one covered with debris. In recent weeks a "glacier of trash," as local authorities described it, is inundating beaches in Hong Kong. The situation is so bad that trash on one of the affected islands can be seen from space.
Between July 1 and 9 alone, about 172,000 pounds—or 8 tons—of trash were collected from Hong Kong beaches. That's 40 percent of the amount collected in Alaska.
Who is to blame for the sudden deluge?
An enormous—and unprecedented—amount of plastic waste and other marine debris has been washing up on Hong Kong's southern beaches in recent weeks.
Hong Kong's shores have been inundated by trash since mid-June.Facebook
Local authorities have described the filth as a "glacier of trash," and that the rubbish from one island could even be seen from space, the Epoch Times wrote. From July 1 to 9 alone, government departments collected 78,000 kilograms (about 172,000 pounds) of litter from affected areas, the South China Morning Post reported.
On Sunday, chief executive Leung Chun-ying and his team of 60 officials and workers collected about 1,350 kilograms (about 3,000 pounds) of garbage in about half an hour during a beach clean-up in South Lantau.
Leung blamed the influx on heavy rains and floods that struck southern China.
"A lot of domestic garbage was washed towards Hong Kong from the mainland ... predictably due to heavy rainfalls and floods in the past few weeks," he said. Leung said he would follow up with Chinese authorities about the situation. Hong Kong is a semi-autonomous Chinese city that's in charge of its own internal affairs and external relations.
As Quartz reported, Hong Kong is located at the mouth of the Pearl River Delta, which runs past several large Guangdong cities that might have open or poorly maintained dump sites. Aided by monsoon winds, the mainland trash flowing in the river was forced onto Hong Kong's shores.
The New York Times reported that as local cleanup groups started picking up the trash, they noticed that the discarded wrappers and packaging had simplified Chinese characters and mainland quality-control symbols, suggesting the trash stemmed from China.
Hong Kong's Environmental Protection Department also believes that the mainland is to blame. In a statement to Quartz the department wrote:
The EPD notices that in mid-June, there had been severe rain storms and floods in many provinces along Pearl River (e.g. Guangdong, Guangxi, Hunan and Jiangxi) and there were reports that Guangdong as well as Liuzhou of Guangxi might encounter a serious 1-in-20 years flood. We suspect that the floods in mid-June in the Mainland might have brought the refuse to the sea and then the refuse is brought to Hong Kong by the southwest monsoon wind and the sea currents. Similar phenomenon happened in 2005 when massive amount of debris and refuse were found at various beaches and coastal areas of Hong Kong after a serious 1 in 100 year flood in the Mainland.
Yongqiang Zong, a professor at Hong Kong University's Department of Earth Sciences, also supports the statement but, as he told Quartz, he suspects that a majority of the trash originates from Guangdong and Guangxi province, not Hunan and Jiangxi, which are further inland.
Sea Shepherd Hong Kong does not believe that China deserves the sole responsibility for the sudden deluge. The conservation group told the South China Morning Post that while mainland China might be responsible for some of the trash, domestic trash from Hong Kong itself is also a culprit.
Residents have become increasingly angry over the cascades of rubbish.Facebook
Gary Stokes, Sea Shepherd's Hong Kong-based Asia director, wrote on Facebook that the city's waste is a major problem and that local reports have unfairly bashed the mainland.
"HK media that seem only interested now as it is a chance to bash China. Where have they been for the past 10 - 15 years whilst all these great NGO's have been highlighting the issues? Hong Kong creates more trash per capita than anywhere on earth, our track record on recycling efforts and cleanliness are dire," he wrote. "Just one look at the Aberdeen Harbour clean up two weeks ago highlights how much trash we are carelessly dumping into our own harbor to be swept out to sea or dumped on North Lamma beaches, yet nothing has been done even though its staring everyone in the face."
Plastic trash and marine debris can be devastating and deadly to aquatic life. Non-biodegradable pieces of plastic, especially microplastics, are a particular cause for worry, as they are being gobbled up by plankton and baby fish like junk food, and work its way up the food chain.
On Facebook, Stokes described his recent trip to plastic-filled Sham Wan, Hong Kong's only green turtle nesting beach which is currently closed.
"Sad to find so much trash along both coastlines coming in, throughout the main bay and on the beach and in the surf," he wrote. "Should a turtle return right now it would have to run a gauntlet of trash."
Turtle Nesting Beach in Sham Wan, Lamma. Gary Stokes
In December, Greenpeace and the International POPs (Persistent Organic Pollutants) Elimination Network (IPEN) jointly released an alarming report that found more than 30 percent of 500 samples of toys and other items contained at least one type of toxic heavy metal. About 10 percent of the samples contained lead above the Chinese regulation of 600 parts per million. The news first came out of Beijing and it was covered extensively by mainland reporters. Later, we took our show on the road and showed Christmas shoppers in Hong Kong the dangers they face in buying seemingly harmless Christmas gifts.
While in Hong Kong, our toxics campaigners, along with Joe DiGangi of IPEN, decided to get ambitious—They inspected an extra 82 items to add to our already extensive list of 500 toys, school supplies, clothing, cups and other products. Add in one pair of Winnie the Pooh slippers from Beijing and a Barbie pencil bag from Guangzhou, and that brings our list to 584.
The list gives detailed information on each of the products and the levels of six heavy metals hiding in different coatings. These heavy metals can be absorbed into the growing bodies of children and cause major issues with their development—especially mental development.
"Heavy metals in children’s products pose a serious threat to kids—even the slightest bit of lead can harm a child’s development," said Greenpeace toxics campaigner Wu Yixiu. "Children tend to put toys and products into their mouths, so they are more vulnerable."
For more information on the dangers of heavy metals, see this link.
In some cases, the results of our testing were absurdly high. With the Winnie the Pooh slippers, for example, the lead content reached 5,580 parts per million. Oh bother.
And the cute Barbie pencil bag? It had a lead content of 2,930 parts per million.
But perhaps the most shocking item was a cup that contained lead levels beyond 40,000 parts per million.
As scary as it sounds, you can avoid these dangerous items. We've given you the knowledge. Check our list for the things you should keep away from. Together we can get the industry to change if we don't buy their toxic products.
"The industry of children’s products should take responsibility in preventing children from being exposed to heavy metals, particularly for big brands," Wu said. "They must take the lead to make change rather than harming their consumers to make a quick buck."
Greenpeace calls on the government to take immediate action to clean up these toxic products and strengthen quality supervision. The government should also adopt more stringent regulations over lead limits in children’s products to keep the source of heavy metals away from children entirely.
For more information, click here.