Time to invest in the Hong Kong harbour

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There is no time to waste on investing in a greener and cleaner harbour, says Richard Wesley, Museum Director of the Hong Kong Maritime Museum.

Hong Kong has suffered terribly from the economic impact of the US-China trade war combined with months of social unrest and division. On top of all of that, the city now faces the threat of a major health scare in the form of Covid-19, also known as the Wuhan coronavirus. These issues have consumed the attention of HK’s leaders for the short-term, but eventually the city will return to some sort of normality and will need to revive and re-imagine its identity and brand. Now is the time to invest in our key asset: Victoria Harbour.

The Hong Kong Maritime Museum is fortunate to be at the heart of the city’s key asset. The harbour has been described as the city’s ‘iconic jewel in the crown’.  It’s the reason Hong Kong grew into a prosperous modern city and global maritime trading centre. All Hongkongers identify with it.

Significant improvements in water quality over recent years, due largely to the government’s investment in the HATS wastewater treatment programme, means watersports events can be staged in the harbour again. The New World Harbour Race (swimming), the Dragon Boat Festival, and last year’s world rowing coastal championships all refocus the city on the harbour front, after decades of neglect. The harbour may be the only Asian stop on the 2020-21 Volvo Ocean Race after the city hosted a successful stop on the 2017-18 edition. 

Invest in a greener harbour 

The potential is obvious but there is far more that can be done. We need to be smart and link innovative thinking and technology to clean the water and air of Victoria Harbour.

The Hong Kong Maritime Museum is planning to collaborate with a combined Hong Kong university team which has developed an award-winning robotic marine rubbish collector. This amazing semi-submersible vehicle called Clearbot won an international award in London and uses AI and drone technology to allow it to detect, locate, and remove floating garbage. Its homegrown technology addresses a local problem, but it’s been slow progress getting the concept adopted or encouraged by the authorities.

Hong Kong has more coral diversity than the entire Caribbean Sea, and local universities have run successful coral restoration projects in Sai Kung and Tolo Harbour. It could be feasible to introduce these projects to Victoria Harbour and turn them into STEM education programmes. Imagine the positive international press coverage if Hong Kong’s people could unite to develop healthy coral communities within its famous urban harbour. 

New York Harbour initiated the Billion Oyster Project, the citizen science project which aims to reintroduce one billion live oysters to their harbour by 2035. The project aims to radically improve local water quality and engage hundreds of thousands of school children in marine conservation-based STEM education programs. Now is the time for positive thinking; if it can be done in New York, it can be done in the Pearl River Delta.

Clean air, too

Last October, the Museum hosted a visit by a vessel called Race for Water which stopped in Hong Kong as a part of a global voyage to highlight plastic pollution. The vessel emits zero emissions and is powered by a combination of wind, solar, and hydrogen cells. It raised the obvious question that if a vessel can travel around the world without emitting any pollution or greenhouse gases, why can’t Hong Kong’s ferries transit the harbour or reach the outer islands without belching out toxic diesel fumes? It’s time to introduce solar powered ferries, LNG (Liquified Natural Gas) bunkering for visiting cruise ships, and actively encourage green energy solutions. Hong Kong still has an acute problem with air pollution, and while the local shipping industry pioneered the green shipping agenda in Asia, it now feels like we are slipping behind.

This is 2020 and Hong Kong needs to get a grip on the fundamental concept that technology, much of it pioneered by innovative young scientists and engineers in our city’s leading universities, should be deployed to preserve and enhance our key asset. Victoria Harbour should be a symbol of unity and pride for the city and a beacon of progressive and environmentally sustainable development for the rest of Asia.

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